ERIC ELWOOD HAS gone for a mix of youth and experience in an experimental Wolfhounds side to face the England Saxons in Exeter on Saturday.
Making his tenth appearance for the Wolfhounds, Ulster openside Chris Henry will captain a starting XV which features six players not yet capped at full international level.
Munster’s hat-trick hero Simon Zebo and Leinster’s David Kearney start on the wings alongside the new-look midfield partnership of Eoin O’Malley and Nevin Spence. Isaac Boss and Ian Keatley are named at nine and ten, with Connacht’s Gavan Duffy adding further experience from full-back.
Up front, Connacht loosehead Brett Wilkinson and Stephen Archer of Munster will prop on either side of hooker Damien Varley, who flew out to New Zealand as a late addition to Ireland’s World Cup squad last autumn.
Dan Tuohy and Mike McCarthy will link up in the second row, while Connacht’s John Muldoon and Henry are named alongside Wolfhounds debutant Rhys Ruddock at the back of the scrum.
Speaking today, Elwood said that his team selection would be more than capable of matching a competitive Saxons side on all fronts.
“Eoin and Nevin have done well over the last couple of days as a pairing and I am looking forward to see how both Simon and David Kearney travel on the wings after a good couple of weeks for them with their provinces,” Elwood said.
We have a touch more experience in our pack, which I think will be important for this game and good spine through it with Dan (Tuohy) and Mike (McCarthy) giving us some really good ability across the set piece and in the carrying stakes to compliment a back row that I think can make a good impression.
Sale flanker James Gaskell has been named as Saxons captain by coach Jon Gallard, who described the 21-year-old as “the leader of a group of leaders” today.
Senior England internationals Delon Armitage, Matt Banahan, Ugo Monye, Matt Mullan and Paul Doran-Jones all start Saturday’s game, while the novice half-back pairing of 21-year-old Freddie Burns and 19-year-old Ben Spencer will be tested for the first time.
“It is a new era for us, there’s a lot of youth and energy in this squad and we’ll go into the game with a ‘no fear’ attitude,” Callard said.
We want to see the players express themselves and at the same time develop the streak of pragmatism you need to win big games. We’ve seen in Europe the strength of Irish rugby at the moment but the challenge motivates and excites us.
Ireland Wolfhounds: Duffy; Kearney, O’Malley, Spence, Zebo; Keatley, Boss; Wilkinson, Varley, Archer; Tuohy, McCarthy; Muldoon, Henry (c), Ruddock. Replacements: Sherry, Loughney, Toner, McLoughlin, O’Leary, Madigan, Hurley.
England Saxons: Armitage; Monye, Hopper, Twelvetrees, Banahan; Burns, Spencer; Mullan, Gray, Doran-Jones; Garvey, Robson; Gaskell (c), Saull, Waldrom. Replacements: Brooker, Harden, Myall, Johnson, Hodgson, Lamb, May.