By Alan Dymock
AN IRELAND side has been selected to storm into the Millennium Stadium this Saturday.
Fronted by new skipper Jamie Heaslip it is a fairly familiar looking side with an additional lick of gloss here and there. Exciting wingers Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo start in the back three, supporting supreme talent Rob Kearney – but there is an absence of new caps.
There are no surprises in the centres with Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy renewing their international partnership and Keith Earls waiting in the wings. The back row also feels comfortable and recognisable, with the captain ably supported by Tweedlethump and Tweedlethwack, Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien.
Chris Henry may scowl a little, particularly after his impressive ground work for Ulster, and his province pal Iain Henderson will be disappointed not to make the bench, but Ireland need as much experience as they can muster.
Last season Ireland let a lead slip, allowing the Welsh to peel back the corners of the Irish defence and slip round the sides, scoring in quick succession. Leigh Halfpenny then stepped up to slot a late penalty and claim an audacious victory. Declan Kidney will not want the same to happen this time and, with O’Driscoll short on game time and no Paul O’Connell, he can be excused for retaining the likes of D’Arcy, Donncha O’Callaghan and Ronan O’Gara for the tie.
This is not the sexiest Irish squad possible, but it is one built for purpose. That purpose is closing out a result against a smarting Welsh outfit and avenging the narrow losses of seasons gone by.
The Marvel catchphrase “It’s clobbering time!” may be running through our heads whenver this team carry and ruck, but it has been selected for economy. Jonathan Sexton will claim points and O’Driscoll will give Gilroy and Zebo a shot as and when he and the pack say so.
Ireland starting XV: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Simon Zebo (Munster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster) Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Mike McCarthy (Connacht), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (captain, Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls (both Munster).