Ireland coach Declan Kidney has made three changes — each of them behind the pack — for Sunday’s RBS Six Nations Championship clash against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Now he is hoping Ronan O’Gara rewards this vote of confidence in him by kick-starting Ireland’s season and launching a Triple Crown bid.
Ospreys’ former Ulster wing wizard, Tommy Bowe, also starts for the first time in the current campaign after recovering from bone bruising to his knee which saw him miss the first two matches of the Championship.
A place in Ireland’s starting team for the first time in 2011 was the perfect present for Bowe who celebrated his 27th birthday yesterday.
The third of the changes from the side beaten 25-22 by France last time out sees Leinster’s Eoin Reddan brought in to partner O’Gara at half-back.
Reddan replaces Munster scrum-half Tomas O’Leary who has been ruled out by a back injury. The inclusion from the off of 106 times-capped O’Gara — on this occasion preferred to Jonathan Sexton who drops to the bench — is the reward for his contribution after coming off the bench in the opening two matches of the 2011 series against Italy and France.
After dropping a late goal to give Ireland a 13-11 victory over the Italians in Rome where he replaced Sexton in the 66th minute, O’Gara only just failed to save Irish hides in the Aviva Stadium follow-up against France on February 13.
On that occasion his first act in a 17 minute-long contribution was to put an immaculate kick into touch in the visitors’ 22, creating an attacking position from which, ultimately, Jamie Heaslip scored a try in the corner.
O’Gara converted superbly from the touchline via an upright, so bringing Ireland back to within three points of parity at 25-22 and afterwards prompting many to speculate that had he been introduced earlier the outcome might well have been different.
Bowe’s selection on the right wing came as no surprise. Finally having recovered from a knee injury, his reinstatement means Fergus McFadden drops out of the 22-man party for Sunday’s Edinburgh test.
Nor were there any surprises when Kidney read out the names of his forwards for the weekend.
With Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery and John Hayes still injured — and indeed now likely to miss the entire series — the eight who started against the French are retained en masse. The line-up translates as eight Leinster starters plus six from Munster, with hooker Rory Best once again Ulster’s sole representative.
The make-up of the seven-man bench is two from Leinster, Munster and Ulster — Tom Court and Paddy Wallace — with Connacht hooker Sean Cronin completing the replacements.
Kidney explained Andrew Trimble’s failure to get a place among the 22 by saying that “he needs another game” after his injury lay-off. Brian O’Driscoll captains the side for the 73rd time, while lock Donncha O’Callaghan wins his 70th cap.
Kidney revealed that his only last-minute decision had been the inclusion of Reddan and the omission of O’Leary, one taken after the latter pulled up in training on Tuesday. His decision to start with O’Gara rather than Sexton was taken “quite early on really”.
Ditto Bowe, whose place was assured once he came through a full 80 minutes of action for Ospreys. “He brings a wealth of experience into the side,” Kidney said, adding that McFadden, whose place he has taken, “did nothing wrong”.