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Brian O'Driscoll hoping for happy homecoming

By Niall Crozier

Brian O’Driscoll may have enjoyed Ireland’s brief lodging at Croke Park, but the skipper can’t wait to settle back home at the newly refurbished Aviva Stadium.

Ireland will play their first game at, what used to be known as, Lansdowne Road since it received it’s massive makeover, when South Africa rock up in Dublin on Saturday.

O’Driscoll had been suffering from a hamstring injury, but declared himself fit yesterday and having missed Ireland's opening match at Croke Park in 2007 with a similar injury, he was determined to participate in another landmark occasion.

Now, the Leinster-man wants to kick-off a new era with a victory and give Irish fans a day to remember on their return home.

“There were no issues today — I trained fully with the squad. Fingers crossed it stays that way,” said O'Driscoll.

“The hamstring's good and I'm looking forward to coming back home, essentially.

“We've enjoyed our time away in Croke Park but it's fantastic to be back at the Aviva Stadium.

“Now I'm looking forward to getting the green jersey on and hopefully making some new memories at this stadium.

“It would have been very disappointing to have missed the first match at the Aviva and I'm thankful that the team are feeling good. I really wanted to play our first at Croke Park, but sometimes it's in the lap of the gods when it comes to injuries.

“On that occasion I was ruled out on the Tuesday, but it's been successful this time so hopefully it stays that way.”

Eight Leinster men — six of them backs — four from Munster, an Ulster pair and an Exile from the province now playing in Wales form the Ireland side.

And also looking forward to facing the World Cup holders is Leinster and Lions wing, Luke Fitzgerald, who starts his first Test match since playing against Australia last November.

Having finally recovered from the injury which sidelined him for more than eight months, he lines out on the left wing, with Monaghan maestro Tommy Bowe (Ospreys) and Leinster’s Rob Kearney completing an exciting-looking back-three.

Eoin Reddan is in at pivot alongside his Leinster colleague Jonathan Sexton, scorer of all of Ireland’s points in their 15-10 Croke Park victory over South Africa last November.

Both the front and back rows feature an Ulster man, a Leinster man and a Munster man. Cian Healy, the Leinster loosehead, Ulster hooker Rory Best and Munster tighthead Tony Buckley are the coalface trio whose scrummaging will be thoroughly tested and examined by their southern hemisphere counterparts.

The loose forwards are Ulster’s Stephen Ferris (blindside), Munster’s David Wallace (openside), Jamie Heaslip, the on-song Leinster No 8 for whom this will be a first international outing since being sent off against New Zealand during understrength Ireland’s ill-fated summer tour.

Donncha O'Callaghan and Mick O'Driscoll continue in tandem in the second row, that being a tried and tested pairing at every level – Cork Constitution, Munster and Ireland.

They were the locks in Ireland’s last international outing — against Australia in June – and in the injury-enforced absence of Paul O’Connell they have formed an impressively solid partnership for the Magners League leaders.

Coach Declan Kidney will wait until after training tomorrow before deciding on the still-to-be-resolved midfield/back three replacement.

Ulster pair Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble are in contention along with Munster’s Keith Earls who faced the South Africans during the Lions’ 2009 tour.

If fit, Earls should get the nod.

“It’s just more prudent to make that decision when we have to,” was Kidney’s explanation for the delay. Asked if Earls was ready, he replied, “He trained yesterday (Monday) and was motoring well so we’ll see how he pulls up after today and how he goes again on Thursday.”

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