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Kidney's Ireland team announcement a fiasco

By Niall Crozier

As press conferences go, Tuesday's chaotic announcement of the Ireland team to face France in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations match broke fresh ground in terms of the bewilderment and confusion it caused.

As a result, the exact identity of the man who will line out as the Irish fly-half remained – and remains – a mystery, with coach Declan Kidney at moments appearing to be as baffled as the media representatives who had asked the question of him in the not unreasonable expectation that he might know the answer.

As a result, at the end of three different media sessions, the assembled journalists were left with four different answers, the most bizarre of which was that Ronan O'Gara – omitted from the 32 who re-grouped at Carton House on Sunday night – could yet be recalled. If so, it would be a comeback of Lazarus proportions.

The day began with Ireland's first-choice number 10, Jonathan Sexton, in the frame. But just before lunch-time he was withdrawn from the list of runners when it was decided that his hamstring is not quite up to a Test match at this stage.

With Sexton out of the running, as things now stand in the aftermath of yesterday's unrivalled confusion, Ulster's Paddy Jackson was expected to start, if fit. There is a doubt, though, with the 21-year-old himself having tweaked a hamstring in training.

At least that appeared to be the message initially. But then Kidney seemed to open up a further possibility, for having first confirmed that Jackson would start, he then suggested that a decision between the Ulster player and Leinster's Madigan had yet to be made.

And with the hacks still trying to make sense of these various mixed messages – as indeed was captain Jamie Heaslip, who sat alongside the enigmatic Kidney – the coach added further confusion by announcing that although he knew who his fly-half would be, he would not reveal that to the public without first having spoke to the two players.

If Jackson does not make it – and Ireland seemed pretty confident that he will – then Ian Madigan looks to be in line for his first senior cap. And if he starts, who will be his understudy? O'Gara, it seems.

In what was first-cousin to an assault on the English language via the medium of gobbledygook, Kidney's response when asked if he would be happy to welcome the axed Munster veteran – 36 tomorrow – into the squad from which he was omitted last weekend was: "Absolutely not would I mind asking Ronan back, I'd be delighted. There was no fun whatsoever in leaving him out.

"I'd only be too delighted. It wouldn't be an awkward conversation from my side, absolutely not. I'm sure he'd love to play for Ireland. He's always loved playing for Ireland and he'd continue to do that.

"Ronan will have been disappointed. You don't give the type of service that Ronan has given and not be disappointed.

"It's the role of the coach to make these calls and I felt Ian had been going well and deserved his chance.

"But it's unfair to put Ronan in that spotlight. Everybody is centrally contracted, so everyone is available to play for Ireland at any stage. We have 20 guys on standby. We'd call someone in when needs be. Everyone is alerted."

Although O'Gara was left out of the original squad for Saturday evening's date with the French, Ireland insisted that his exclusion for the first time in 13 years did not signal the end of his international career. But one doubts if they could possibly have envisaged a recall quite so quick, dramatic or unexpected so soon after that very public snub. If that happens, it will indeed be a quite remarkable saga.

There is confusion, too, over the identity of the player who will provide cover from the bench for tight-head, Mike Ross.

That was to have been Declan Fitzpatrick's job but the Ulster prop has been ruled out with a calf muscle injury, resulting in calls to arms for Munster's Stephen Archer and Leinster's Michael Bent. Decision due whenever.

What is known is that there are three definite changes to the side beaten by Scotland at Murrayfield, with Ulster speedster Craig Gilroy's place on the right wing having gone to Leinster's Fergus McFadden, the former the victim of a groin strain.

Another Ulster player who misses out is loose-head Tom Court, for with Cian Healy able to return following his reduced-on-appeal suspension for stamping on England's Dan Cole on February 10, he starts on the left side of the front row.

Mike McCarthy, now recovered from the knee ligament injury he suffered in the 12-6 defeat by England, rejoins Donnacha Ryan in the second row with Donncha O'Callaghan returning to the bench.



Teams for RBS 6 Nations match between Ireland and France at Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Saturday (5.00pm)

IRELAND: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall, K Earls, AN Other, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; M McCarthy, D Ryan; P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip

Replacements: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, AN Other; D O'Callaghan, I Henderson, E Reddan; AN Other, L Fitzgerald

France: (possible) Huget, Clerc, Bastareaud, Fofana, Fall, Trinh-Duc, Parra, Domingo, Kayser, Mas, Samson, Maestri, Nyanga, Dusautoir, Picamoles.

Replacements: Michalak, Machenaud, Debaty, Szarzewski, Ducalcon, Suta, Claasen.

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