Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Niall Crozier: New faces in Ireland squad not a surprise, but inclusion of old ones is

Ulster's Paul Marshall has missed out on a starting place for Ireland
Ulster's Paul Marshall has missed out on a starting place for Ireland

The nature of the occasion notwithstanding, the make-up of the Irish XV to play Fiji at Thomond Park this evening was no surprise.

With Mike Ross, Conor Murray and Jamie Heaslip the only survivors of the side beaten 16-12 by South Africa, some may view this as a radical selection by the usually conservative Declan Kidney.

It is not. With the fixture not having Test status, with neither caps nor ranking points awarded, that makes this totally risk-free.

The real test of Kidney’s gambling instinct will come if fly-half Paddy Jackson has a stormer, forcing the cagey coach to choose between him and 36-year-old Ronan O’Gara for back-up in the must-win match against Argentina.

It is because of Kidney’s caution that Jackson’s Ulster colleague, Paul Marshall, has missed out on a starting place. Quite why he has opted for Conor Murray is baffling. Already he is Kidney’s first-choice at senior level, though some — myself among them — continue to question this. So why deploy Murray at this level, too?

Marshall has been the in-form Irish scrum-half since the start of the season. Brought to New Zealand — having suspended surgery in order to travel — he never saw action. Wasn’t this the perfect opportunity to field him?

The inclusion of first-team tight-head Ross makes no sense, either. And Donncha O’Callaghan? He’s 33! He has 89 Irish caps! Why is he starting?

The inclusion of Darren Cave at outside centre alongside a trio of back line debutants — Jackson, Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall — means Ulstermen in the berths numbered 10-13 inclusive. I’ll take that — on merit rather due to bias.

My fervent hope is that those deserving of a place next weekend make an irrefutable case for themselves, putting the spotlight fully on the coach.

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