TOMMY O’DONNELL, IAN Madigan and Robin Copeland have all been selected to start for the Ireland Wolfhounds against the England Saxons on Saturday in Gloucester [5.00pm].
The Munster openside’s inclusion in this team would suggest that Chris Henry has been earmarked for the number seven shirt in Joe Schmidt’s XV to take on Scotland in Ireland’s Six Nations opener on the 2nd of February, although a dominant performance from O’Donnell could sway the Kiwi coach’s thinking.
Leinster teammates Isaac Boss and Madigan make up the halfback pairing, with the latter’s game management set to be of particular interest this weekend. Boss has struggled for starts under Matt O’Connor at his province recently, so will relish this opportunity.
Fergus McFadden, back from a hand injury, makes up an exciting-looking back three with Munster’s Felix Jones and Ulster’s Craig Gilroy, while a centre partnership of Robbie Henshaw and Darren Cave offer us the chance to judge two potential candidates to replace Brian O’Driscoll at senior level in the future.
There are three powerful ball carriers in the back row with Munster-bound No. 8 Copeland flanked by O’Donnell and Leinster man Rhys Ruddock, who captains the side. Just in front of that trio, Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy are equally physical options.
The front row will see Dave Kilcoyne attempt to demonstrate to Schmidt that he deserves to come back into the picture for the Six Nations, while Rob Herring and Martin Moore are rewarded for their ever-improving provincial form.
On the bench, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Ian Keatley, and Simon Zebo all offer impact in the second half. McGrath has been blitzing scrummaging sessions this week by all accounts, meaning his involvement in the Six Nations looks a strong possibility.
Kieran Marmion escaped a ban at his ERC disciplinary hearing in Dublin this morning and takes a bench spot, while the stunning return to action of Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss continues with his inclusion on the bench.
There is quality all over the pitch for this Ireland Wolfhounds side, meaning coaches Anthony Foley and Neil Doak have plenty of firepower at their disposal.
Ireland Wolfhounds (v England Saxons): F Jones; F McFadden, R Henshaw, D Cave, C Gilroy; I Madigan, I Boss; D Kilcoyne, R Herring, M Moore; I Henderson, D Tuohy; R Ruddock (c), T O’Donnell, R Copeland.
Replacements: R Strauss, J McGrath, S Archer, R Diack, J Murphy, K Marmion, I Keatley, S Zebo.