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No change the call for Ireland

The air of well-being surrounding the Ireland camp presents a compelling argument for consistency and the only selection quandary ahead of this afternoon's announcement of the team to face Italy in Rome on Sunday surrounds the inside-centre position.

Ulster's Paddy Wallace is the man in possession but Gordon D'Arcy's try-scoring impact off the bench in the victory over France last weekend has led to calls for the Wexford man to renew his midfield partnership with Brian O'Driscoll.

Considering his difficult rehabilitation after breaking his arm against Italy a year ago, D'Arcy's eye-catching cameo was hugely encouraging for Ireland coach Declan Kidney and there is an argument for including him against the Six Nations' weakest team.

The counter-argument reasons that Wallace, following a superb season thus far with Ulster, deserves another shot at 12 and also that his distribution and kicking skills could be especially useful against an Italian defence that will be more oppressive than France's 'drifters', as backs coach Alan Gaffney acknowledged yesterday.

"Paddy brings different things to the game. He's a very good ball player," said Gaffney. "He creates space for people on the outside. He's a good reader of the game.

"D'Arcy is a player with a lot of experience and brings other attributes. They have both got a lot of pluses, and they're both very good footballers in their own right."

Team manager Paul McNaughton stressed that it was a happy position for Kidney to be in but, like Gaffney, would not be drawn on the likely call.

"The coaches will sit down to decide on that issue, but it's good to have two strong contenders for that position for the Italian match," said McNaughton.

If there was a rotation policy, Italy would be the ideal opportunity to bring it into play but the key word heading into Ireland's second Six Nations outing is momentum and allowing the team, and units within, to further develop after such an encouraging opening salvo appears the most prudent option.

Like D'Arcy, Denis Leamy is bullying for a place in the team following an encouraging return from injury but faces a sizeable obstacle in the shape of Stephen Ferris. The Ulster flanker made a barnstorming start last Saturday and then knuckled down effectively as the Irish back row set about limiting the influence of a scarily athletic French trio.

Amid all the euphoria and eulogising, the mentors are managing to maintain a commendably grounded view of the challenges ahead.

Positives are not over-played nor are negatives evaded and, whether we see changes to the team, the current conviction should remain intact for round two.

Belfast Telegraph


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