Magnificent seven await Kidney’s call
Of the seven Ulster representatives in Declan Kidney’s 33-man squad for Saturday’s RBS 6Nations curtain-raiser against Wales at the Millennium Stadium, hooker Rory Best is likely to sleep easiest tonight.
Fellow-front row warriors Tom Court and Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson — equally at home at lock or on the blind-side flank — open-side Chris Henry and back line pair Craig Gilroy (wing) and Paddy Jackson (fly-half) are in contention, too.
But Best is the guaranteed starter when, at lunch-time today, Kidney names his team to face the Welsh.
Leinster pair Cian Healy and Mike Ross will be his loose and tight-head starters, with Court and Fitzpatrick hoping to have done enough to shade Kidney’s verdict as replacements.
By virtue of outstanding form for Ulster, Court has forced his way back into the reckoning.
His last Test appearance was on March 17 when he ended up packing down at number three and afterwards carrying the can — totally unfairly — for the Irish scrum’s failure to cope with England’s set-piece in the trauma that was Twickenham.
Court’s ability to play on either side of the front row had seen him included in the match-day 23 since making his Test debut in February 2009, but the law-change permitting two replacement props rather than one able to cover both undid him.
He and rival loose-head, Munster’s David Kilcoyne, did a 40-minute shift in Friday night’s O2 Ireland Wolfhounds clash with England Saxons in Galway, suggesting that Kidney was not quite sure which of the two to include on this weekend’s bench.
Fitzpatrick has emerged as a real threat to Michael Bent, the Kiwi who — with haste approaching indecency — was handed an Ireland cap within days of arriving from New Zealand before ever having donned a Leinster shirt.
He had a wretched time on Friday night and it was only when he made way for Fitzpatrick that the Wolfhounds scrum tightened.
While the Ulster player — by dint of form and morality — ought to beat him to a seat on the bench, that does not mean he will.
Henry played at seven in the November tests against South Africa and Argentina and impressed in both.
Then, however, Sean O’Brien was unavailable. Now he is fit and poses a threat.
That said, if current form is the yardstick, Henry ought to pip the 2011 European Player of the Year to a place in the starting 15.
Gilroy, too, should make it on the left wing following his excellent debut against Argentina, though Simon Zebo's hat-trick of tries in Munster's Heineken Cup rout of Racing Metro nine days ago certainly won't have done his case any harm.
By virtue of his ability to provide second and back row cover, Henderson is likely to make the bench, as was the case in games against the Springboks and the Pumas.
But 21-year-old Jackson looks like having to wait a little longer for his chance.