Wallace wins recall after hardest pick
Irish rugby coach Declan Kidney admitted that the decision to omit Gordon D’Arcy from his panel of 22 for Sunday’s Croke Park test match with Australia was one of the most difficult he has ever had to make.
“You don’t like leaving a fella like Gordon out. That’s not an easy or a nice thing to have to do,” said Kidney.
“But you pick what you believe to be the best team to do a particular job against particular opponents on a particular day and that’s what I have done.”
The beneficiary of Kidney’s difficult decision is Ulster captain Paddy Wallace, who has been chosen to partner Brian O’Driscoll in midfield.
Kidney refused to elaborate on his thinking in choosing Wallace ahead of D’Arcy.
“They’re different players with different types of things to offer. Last season Paddy was unlucky to miss out with injuries,” was as far as he was prepared to go.
The other Ulster starter is blindside Stephen Ferris, whose back row colleagues are Munster flanker David Wallace and Leinster No. 8 Jamie Heaslip. That’s a breakaway unit featuring three Lions.
Other than inside centre, the position around which there had been debate was loose head prop, with Ulster’s Tom Court and Leinster’s Cian Healy in contention for the number one jersey left vacant as a result of Marcus Horan’s as yet undefined health problems.
In this instance the young Clontarf front row player got the nod for what will be his international debut at senior level.
It is a decision which Court accepted with good grace.
“I can’t begrudge Cian his cap; he has been playing really well – and consistently,” the Australian-turned-Irishman said. “Good luck to him, and I mean that.
“But if I get on, hopefully I’ll take my chance. I’m ready for it. I’m up for this.”
Elsewhere, it is pretty much as expected, with the vast experience of hooker Jerry Flannery and tight head John Hayes counting for more than the fact they have had precious little match-time to date this season.
With Kidney famed for having said that he would select on current form, it was surprising to hear him admit that, on this occasion, it had not necessarily been the case.
“You look at the opposition and you try to weigh up how best to beat them,” he said. “That was our thinking in choosing the side we have chosen to face Australia.”
The locks are Munster and Lions comrades-in-arms, Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell.
It’s a Munster half-back pairing, too with Tomas O’Leary partnering Ronan O’Gara who is coming under increasing pressure to hold on to his outside-half’s jersey.
Leinster’s Jonny Sexton will be on the bench on Sunday, in which case there is a very good chance that he will start against Fiji six days later.
It’s an all-Lions back three, too, with Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald wearing numbers 15, 14 and 11 respectively.
Once again O’Driscoll captains the side in what, including Lions matches, will be his 100th Test outing.
But the skipper was keen to point out that he plays in a team “with leaders throughout it”.
There can be no disputing that, with Munster ace O’Connell having captained the 2009 Lions as well as leading his province, and O’Driscoll’s midfield colleague Wallace this term’s Ulster skipper.
Ireland squad v Australia, Sunday November 15 at Croke Park (3.00pm): R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (capt) (Leinster), P Wallace (Ulster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster); D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster); S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Court (Ulster), L Cullen (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), K Earls (Munster).