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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

Captaincy conundrum to dominate Ireland team announcement

Declan Kidney names his Ireland team to face Scotland later today and will be accompanied by a new captain

Guess what Deccie gave me? - Best is in pole position to lead Ireland
Guess what Deccie gave me? - Best is in pole position to lead Ireland

A CAPTAIN’S ARMBAND will gently loll on a clothes-hook amidst the pre-match tremulation in the Irish dressing room on Saturday.

It is still unclear as to whose bicep the armband will adorn – especially after reports emerged of Rory Best’s hip injury – but there are plenty of candidates that will not shirk the duty that Declan Kidney may bestow on them at lunchtime today.

Brian O’Driscoll’s shoulder surgery and the injury that has ended Paul O’Connell’s Six Nations mean President Michael D Higgins will be greeted by another new face if he shows up at the Aviva Stadium for the third match in succession.

Leo Cullen was the last ‘non-O’ to lead Ireland when he took the armband for the 62-12 win over Russia at the World Cup. The Leinster captain is on the road to recovery after an operation on his damaged Achilles so the rugby news cycle later today will focus on the latest incumbent of the black fabric band.

Best seemed to be the most suitable candidate for the role and would, doubtless, carry off the assignment with class and determination. However it is likely that, sore ribs aside, Sean Cronin may well have been drafted into the hooker position for this weekend’s game against Scotland.

The only changes that look certain for the 15 to face the Scots are Donncha Ryan, for O’Connell, and Eoin Reddan, for Conor Murray.

Other squad members that have been spoken of in relation to the captaincy – Sean O’Brien, Jonny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip – may all find their playing time significantly curtailed on Saturday. With an away date against England – and the sizeable world ranking points that would come with a win – Peter O’Mahony and Fergus McFadden may be drafted in to freshen up the team.

A parting gift?

It may well be that a senior member of the squad, such as Donnacha O’Callaghan, could be given the armband in a valedictory gesture. O’Callaghan has often run afoul of referees over the years and it would be interesting to see if he could keep his infamous wit in check if Ireland’s breakdown antics were to anger New Zealand ref Chris Pollock.

Eoin Reddan should retain possession of the number nine jersey for the final two games of this season’s championship and would revel in the dual responsibility of marshalling the troops and making the on-field calls.

The back-row is brimming with viable candidates and Sean O’Brien is a player that has been earmarked as a future Irish captain, while Stephen Ferris has been in immense form and Heaslip is blessed with playing stamina and the gift of the gab.

By lunchtime today the speculation could well prove moot and Rory Best could be fielding questions from the media as the latest Ireland rugby captain. The Banbridge man was written off as a non-starter against Wales at the World Cup in October but overcame injury to be one of his country’s best players on the day. Sounds like the perseverance and commitment of a captain.

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