Six Nations: Ireland could call on Ulstermen
Nothing for granted: Ulster trio (from left) Rory Best, Iain Henderson and Luke Marshall at Ireland's Carton House training base ahead of Sunday's big match INPHO
ULSTER trio Luke Marshall, Chris Henry and Andrew Trimble could join Ravenhill team-mate Rory Best as starters for Ireland against Scotland as Joe Schmidt prepares to name his first Six Nations team today.
The Ireland coach looks set to name as many as 12 of the players who started against New Zealand in the final November international for the clash with Scotland on Sunday, with Tommy Bowe and Sean O'Brien absent through injury and Gordon D'Arcy likely to miss out.
Luke Fitzgerald had looked favourite to fill the void left by the Ulster winger, but an abdominal muscle injury looks set to rule him out of contention for this week and Trimble looks like getting the nod, although Fergus McFadden is pushing him and Dave Kearney, and could take the final spot on the bench if he doesn't make it.
Henry, who started at openside flanker in the first November Test before tearing his hamstring, looks set to see off the challenge of Tommy O'Donnell and Jordi Murphy for the No 7 jersey.
Marshall, who rotated with D'Arcy during the autumn and played against Australia, is poised to wear the No 12 jersey against the side he made his debut against last season.
The duo could swap ahead of tomorrow week's game against Wales.
Elsewhere, the New Zealander is set to hand Martin Moore his first international involvement off the bench, while Dan Tuohy could beat Iain Henderson to the job of backing up the second-rows.
Isaac Boss looks likely to back up Conor Murray after his late inclusion in the squad due to Eoin Reddan injuring his calf, while Paddy Jackson could hold the edge over Ian Madigan for the second out-half role, given McFadden's ability to cover a number of positions.
And if, as expected, Schmidt picks Brian O'Driscoll to start, the legendary centre will become Ireland's most capped player with 129 appearances.
Despite the fact that this will be the former captain's final campaign, the coach says he will not make it a motivational issue over the next five games.
"I don't think he'd want it addressed and I don't think we'll plan to address it at all.
"If the players make a decision that he runs out first (in Paris), I think that would be brilliant, if he is fit and if he is selected," said Schmidt (below).
"I think that I might be a little bit conscious of it, but if you watch the Argentina game against Australia where Felipe Contepomi was playing his last game, I thought emotionally the Argentinians might have distracted themselves a little bit, they were too up for the game, and maybe missed their accuracy, it is about getting that balance."
Meanwhile, former Ireland back-row Denis Leamy believes Joe Schmidt is following Lions coach Warren Gatland's lead by sticking to what he knows in his first season as Ireland coach.
The Ireland coach has come under fire for his decision to pick 18 players from his former side Leinster in his 34-man squad, with just five coming from Munster.
"I think Joe Schmidt is taking a leaf out of Warren Gatland's book and has selected his Irish squad the same way as the Lions did last summer," says the former Munster No 8.
"There is a big Leinster contingent in the squad for his first Six Nations, but I think Schmidt is, for now, going with the players who he has worked most closely with.
"I think you will see more Munster and other players coming in after the opening two games. It is a very tight schedule for Ireland to start with, two home games in six days.
"You've got to deliver in those games and Schmidt knows that. He is under the spotlight on the international stage and it is a huge jump up."
In the enemy camp, Scotland skipper Kelly Brown has warned his side to expect a hostile welcome in Dublin.
The Scots will face the Irish at the Aviva Stadium looking to end an eight-year wait for an opening-weekend win.
But they take on a side who pushed the all-conquering All Blacks to the limit in November before losing only to a last-gasp try.
Saracens forward Brown, though, is confident his side can compete with a team they beat 12-8 at Murrayfield 12 months ago.
Brown, who will earn his 61st cap on Sunday, told the BBC: "Any away game in the Six Nations will be hostile so we are expecting that but at the end of the day it is down to 15 against 15.
"We have not won our first game for a number of years so if we can start well then we can build some momentum.
"It's an incredibly tough start. Their last match was against the All Blacks and they probably should have beaten them.
"We finished third last year, which was our highest finish in quite a number of years, as a squad we need to keep working hard.
"On top of that, it's about making sure we're more consistent because in the past we've maybe raised ourselves for one-off games but we have to make sure we do that time and again."