Beyond the expected reconfirmation of Brian O’Driscoll as Ireland captain, Declan Kidney’s first squad revealed little of his intentions for the crucial autumn Test series.
Kidney yesterday named an enlarged squad of 41 players for the Tests against Canada, New Zealand and Argentina — with the results critical if Ireland are to finish the campaign in the top eight of the IRB world ranking and earn seeded status for the 2011 World Cup draw in December.
Although O’Driscoll opted to step down from the Leinster captaincy this season, he still retains the hunger to captain his country and despite speculation that Ronan O’Gara or Paul O’Connell might take over as leader this season, Kidney (inset) was never going to make a change unless O’Driscoll was happy to step down.
One of the beneficiaries of Kidney’s broad-brush selection policy is former Ulster star Roger Wilson, who has made an impressive start for his new club Northampton Saints.
Wilson, whose sole cap came against Japan in 2005, is one of six exiled players included in the panel, including former Ravenhill team-mate Tommy Bowe, now at the Ospreys.
And despite Ulster’s poor start to their Magners League and Heineken Cup campaigns, there of six of Matt Williams’ squad included — Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace, Rory Best, Ryan Caldwell, Tom Court and Stephen Ferris.
The only changes from the training squad announced in late July see Ulster players Bryan Young and Isaac Boss dropping out alongside the currently banned Neil Best and injured Leo Cullen, while Munster’s Barry Murphy is drafted in.
Despite Connacht’s recent victory over Leinster in the Magners League, only one player, Gavin Duffy is included of Michael Bradley’s squad.
Gordon D'Arcy is also unavailable because of complications following arm surgery last spring.
D'Arcy requires further surgery on the injury after the first operation and subsequent bone graft failed to rectify the problem.
A scan on Monday revealed that he had a twisted knee rather than any major damage and he is expected to be available for the internationals.
Canada are first up for Ireland at Thomond Park on 8 November and it's possible that O'Driscoll and a number of other regulars may be rested for that game.
Ireland then face New Zealand at Croke Park on 15 November before taking on Australia seven days later at the Dublin venue.
Kidney said that he was delighted that the 85-times capped O’Driscoll had “agreed to captain the squad”.
“I have also opted to name a bigger squad that originally anticipated so that we can continue to familiarise a largely new-look backroom staff with a wider group of players,” added Kidney.
“Our games assume additional importance this year considering their significance as regards our seeding position going into the World Cup 2011 draw being made in December.”
Ulster coach Matt Williams, who coached O'Driscoll for three years while he was Leinster coach, said the 29-year-old was still the right choice as captain.
"Brian was the best player I coached and he has earned the right by his performances over the years to decide when he wants to step down," said Williams, who side face Munster at Ravenhill on Saturday night.
"The time will come when he wants to step down but for now the Irish rugby public should just enjoy watching the last years of his career."
Kidney's extended squad includes veteran lock Malcolm O'Kelly but there is no place for Johnny O'Connor despite the Connacht flanker's recent good form.
The squad will assemble for a week's training in Limerick on Monday next and at the conclusion of that camp, the Ireland squad will be reduced to approximately 30 players, from which the 22-man squad to play Canada will be named.
IRELAND SQUAD: Backs: T Bowe (Ospreys), I Dowling (Munster), G Dempsey (Leinster), G Duffy (Connacht), K Earls (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), S Horgan (Leinster), R Kearney (Leinster), G Murphy (Leicester), B Murphy (Munster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster), E Reddan (Wasps), J Sexton (Leinster), P Stringer (Munster), A Trimble (Ulster), P Wallace (Ulster)
Forwards: R Best (Ulster), T Buckley (Munster), R Caldwell (Ulster), B Casey (London Irish), T Court (Ulster), S Ferris (Ulster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), M Horan (Munster), B Jackman (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), A Quinlan (Munster), M Ross (Harlequins), D Ryan (Munster), D Wallace (Munster), R Wilson (Northampton).