Ireland rugby coach Declan Kidney has announced an extended 39-man training squad for the upcoming RBS 6 Nations game with Wales and the Ireland Wolfhounds fixture against England Saxons.
The squad includes three uncapped Ulster players, Paddy Jackson, Lewis Stevenson and Paul Marshall. In all there are six new inclusions with Dave McSharry and Robbie Henshaw, both of Connacht, and Leinster’s Ian Madigan coming in.
However the biggest surprise is that Jamie Heaslip has retained the captaincy despite fit again Brian O’Driscoll being included in the squad.
Heaslip, who had been stand-in, captain for the Autumn internationals spoke of his delight at being named skipper, saying: “I was incredibly honoured when Declan asked me back in November to lead the team in Brian’s absence. To get the oppurtunity again, considering what an inspirational leader Brian is and the other players who could have been chosen to captain the team, is even more humbling.”
O’Driscoll, who has 120 Ireland caps and been on two British Lions tours with a third looking highly likely, insited he will give Heaslip “all the support that he needs.”
Coach Kidney said that because of O’Driscoll’s lack of game time it was important the player focused on getting back to full fitness. Lidney said: ”Brian has played very little rugby in the last number of months and I think he deserves the space and time to concentrate on getting himself back playing fully fit.”
In total there are 11 Ulstermen included in the squad. Craig Gilroy’s impressive performances in the Autumn series has been rewarded with another call up. As well as Gilroy’s inclusion, Iain Henderson, Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson and Lewis Stevenson will all be looking to impress Declan Kidney, both this weekend in Ulster’s Heineken Cup match against Castres Olympique and in training with the combined Ireland and Wolfhounds squad. The 6 Nations opener against the Welsh is on February 2 in Cardiff.