A decision on the Ireland captaincy will be made next week after coach Declan Kidney yesterday named a 39-man squad for the Six Nations ahead of France's visit to Croke Park in just over a fortnight.
Kidney retained Brian O'Driscoll as captain for the November internationals but the decision not to confirm the Leinster centre until this weekend's final round of Heineken Cup pool matches suggests the position is up for debate once more.
There was a similar delay in confirming the captaincy prior to the November internationals allowing Kidney and O'Driscoll time to decide what was the best way forward and the captaincy is likely to be confirmed when the 39-man squad gathers on Tuesday in Limerick.
Promising Ulster centre Darren Cave is included in his first Ireland squad and there is a return for Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy to international duty for the first time since he broke his arm against Italy a year ago.
Second row Leo Cullen, prop Tony Buckley and backrows Neil Best and Roger Wilson were not considered due to injury or suspension while Malcolm O'Kelly is included in the face of possible suspension this evening when he faces a disciplinary committee in Dublin after being cited for an incident in the defeat to Wasps last weekend.
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton makes the cut making Ulster number 10 Ian Humphreys the most glaring omission as he is named in an A panel of nine players which will be supplemented by members of the senior squad in time for the meeting with the England Saxons the night before the France game.
Wales named a 28-man panel earlier this week, followed by Scotland (33) and France (30) while England manager Martin Johnson is working with a 32-man 'elite' squad.
Kidney's 39-man squad has an element of 'come all ye' to it but, while cutting down on headline omissions, it is the Corkman's practical preference to expose as many players as possible to his coaching team of Gert Smal, Alan Gaffney and Les Kiss.
Nonetheless, there are still talking points in yesterday's announcement, headed by the captaincy issue and the identity of the back-up out-half behind Ronan O'Gara.
The clamour for Paul O'Connell (below)to be installed as Ireland captain is intensifying as he is increasingly linked with the Lions job this summer. The second row is at the top of his game and the difference in Munster's play over the past number of weeks when he was in the team and when he was absent was stark and cannot be put down to coincidence.
With regard to the out-half spot, O'Gara is still streets of the posse and Paddy Wallace is favourite for the bench as he provides superb cover in midfield and an 'in case of emergency break glass' option should O'Gara encounter on-pitch mishap.
Ireland Squad, RBS 6 Nations Championship 2009
Backs: Tommy Bowe (Ospreys); Ian Dowling (Shannon/Munster); Girvan Dempsey (Terenure College/Leinster), Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster); Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster); Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster); Shane Horgan (Boyne/Leinster); Robert Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Geordan Murphy (Leicester); Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster); Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster); Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster); Eoin Reddan (Wasps); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster); Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster); Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster); Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster).
Forwards: Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster); Ryan Caldwell (Dungannon/Ulster), Bob Casey (London Irish);
Tom Court (Ballymena/Ulster); Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster); Jerry Flannery (Shannon/Munster); John Hayes (Bruff/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster); Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster); Marcus Horan (Shannon/Munster); Bernard Jackman (Clontarf/Leinster); Shane Jennings (St. Mary’s College/Leinster); Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster)/ Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster); Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster); Mick O’Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster); Malcolm O’Kelly (St.Mary’s College/Leinster); Alan Quinlan (Shannon /Munster); Mike Ross (Harlequins)/ Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster); David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster).
A Team Panel: Isaac Boss (Ballymena/Ulster); Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht); Gavin Duffy (Galwegians/Connacht); Ian Humphreys (Ballymena/Ulster); Keith Matthews (Buccaneers/Connacht); John Muldoon (Galwegians/Connacht); Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster); Neil Best (Northampton); John Andress (Exeter)Story 'irelandsquad22' fetched from queue '\BELFAST\WIRE\INM Feeds\Dublin Raw Copy\Sport' on 21/01/2009 19:47:03