The Irish squad for next month’s three-match southern hemisphere tour includes two uncapped Ulster forwards.
Back row Chris Henry and lock Dan Tuohy are joined by uncapped Leinster midfielder Fergus McFadden who was named as Ireland’s A’s Most Valuable Player in last summer’s triumph in the Churchill Cup.
The 33-strong party’s make-up is 12 Munster men, 11 from Leinster, six from Ulster, two from Connacht and two who play their club rugby on the other side of the Irish Sea.
Henry and Tuohy are joined by Ravenhill colleagues Rory Best, Tom Court, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace.
Stephen Ferris’s broken cheekbone — an injury picked up in training ahead of Ulster’s clash with Connacht in the final Magners League game of the season — ruled him out, a fate also suffered by Leinster captain Leo Cullen who injured a shoulder in his side’s May 9 meeting with Edinburgh.
And Munster back-row Denis Leamy and Leinster back three Lion Luke Fitzgerald, both of whom have knee problems, were not considered.
But, surprisingly, Munster skipper Paul O’Connell is included despite not having played since suffering a groin injury in Ireland’s final RBS 6 Nations outing of the season against Scotland back on March 20.
He has been receiving intravenous antibiotics in a Cork hospital and was not expected to be included.
However, as is his wont, coach Declan Kidney has sprung a major surprise by naming last summer’s Lions captain, that two-month lay-off notwithstanding.
With the unfortunate Cullen unavailable and major doubts as to whether or not O’Connell is fully fit, Tuohy could just be a beneficiary.
Following Ulster’s recent rout of Connacht, the big lock was keen to play down any talk of the possibility of a place in Kidney’s south-bound party. Now, however, he can begin to ponder over things on which he felt he dared not dwell.
That night he expressed his delight and surprise at having earned Ireland A honours earlier in the season and it certainly was
not a case of false modesty on his part.
Now, with a World Cup coming, would be a very good time to stake a claim and 6’5” Tuohy, who will celebrate his 25th birthday whilst on tour, knows this is a great opportunity.
It’s also a great chance for Ronan O’Gara, who has deputised as Munster captain in O’Connell’s absence, to take his collection of caps to 100. Currently he has 98.
Given O’Gara’s battle with Leinster ace Jonathan Sexton for the right to wear the number 10 jersey, Kidney’s choice of fly-half in the matches against the All Blacks and Australia may provide a significant insight as to where the rivals for that key position currently stand in his pecking order.
Meanwhile, traditional tours are back in vogue with the International Rugby Board Council having just approved a new global 10-year playing schedule that will shape the Test landscape in the run-up to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
The schedule, which starts in 2012, will lead to more meaningful Tests between SANZAR and Six Nations Unions during the June window, “providing an attractive and equitable commercial model that will see northern hemisphere Unions tour southern hemisphere Unions on a rotational basis”.
Most years within the schedule will involve a three-Test series against only one visiting nation in June, with midweek matches also set to be incorporated into the tourists’ itinerary at the agreement of the respective Unions.