IRELAND HEAD COACH Declan Kidney has announced a 32-man squad for the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations Championship this lunchtime – and there’s a couple of surprises.
Ireland take on Italy in Stadio Flaminio in just over two weeks’ time. But Tomás O’Leary won’t be there.
The Munster scrum half and his team-mate Tony Buckley have been demoted to the Wolfhounds squad.
Uncapped Connacht forward Mike McCarthy meanwhile is in line for his first senior run-out. While Luke Fitzgerald and Rory Best return after suffering injuries during the Guinness series in November.
Kidney said there was some tough decisions to make. “As always the selection of the squad is never an easy one,” he said, “but certainly the level of competition in each position is probably as great as it has ever been over the last two years.
Players have been really pushing their performances for their provinces, so that level of competition can only be good.
That translates into more competition for each place in the squad and then for the first selection against Italy, which can only be a good thing coming into the championship.”
With O’Leary making way, Eoin Reddan and Peter Stringer will contest the number nine jersey for the opening clash in Italy on February 5th.
Kidney continued: “The RBS 6 Nations Championship remains one of the best tournaments in world rugby. We will be treating it as a separate entity from what happens over the rest of the year and focus on building on the positives from November for the championship.”
“As we know from last year and every other time we have faced Italy, they represent a greater threat every year. The addition of their teams in the Magners League is building their experience and I think that will have an even greater influence on their national side for the championship.
“The key for us is to work hard in setting the foundations for the tournament in our first week in camp and our only focus will be on that opening game against Italy,” he added.
Ireland squad for Six Nations v Italy:
Backs: Tommy Bowe, Gordon D’Arcy, Gavin Duffy, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Shane Horgan, Ronan O’ Gara, Brian O’Driscoll,Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Peter Stringer, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace.
Forwards: Rory Best, Tom Court, Sean Cronin, Leo Cullen, Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings, Denis Leamy, Mike McCarthy, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien, Mick O’Driscoll, Michael Ross, Rhys Ruddock, David Wallace.