Luke Marshall can rise to big occasion, says Ireland manager Joe Schmidt
Ireland manager Joe Schmidt is adamant that he is not taking a gamble having picked Luke Marshall ahead of the vastly more experienced Gordon D'Arcy for tomorrow's clash with Scotland.
Marshall's inclusion alongside record-breaking Brian O'Driscoll in a midfield which pairs youth and experience – this will be the 22-year-old Ulster player's fifth cap – was taken as a result of D'Arcy having picked up a stomach bug earlier in the week.
"It was a very, very close call," said Schmidt.
"Luke got a little bit more of the training time and would feel a little bit more comfortable."
And highlighting the standards of which both are capable he said: "Luke made a couple of really good telling breaks against the Australians in the autumn, then Gordon D'Arcy played as well as I've seen him against the All Blacks.
"Luke Marshall has played really well in the Heineken Cup in big games.
"He played in the Six Nations last year and played very well against Scotland."
With O'Driscoll set to make his 129th appearance, so becoming the most capped Irish international rugby player of all time, tomorrow's RBS 6 Nations clash with the Scots at the Aviva Stadium promises to be a very Leinster-flavoured occasion.
Schmidt's match-day 23 underscores the point; the former Leinster guru has named seven of that province's players in his 15 starters – eight if you include Jonny Sexton, now with Racing Metro – plus another five on the bench.
But he has laced the line-up with a liberal sprinkling of Ulstermen of whom four start – Marshall, Rory Best, Chris Henry and Andrew Trimble. And two more from north of the border – Dan Tuohy and Paddy Jackson – are replacements.
Explaining his decision to name second row forward Tuohy rather than Ulster team-mate Iain Henderson, the coach said it had hinged on the amount of game time the pair have had recently. "We are very conscious that Iain Henderson's only had one 80 minutes in probably the last two months. If we get a lock injury early in the game, which hopefully we won't, I think Dan's better conditioned and ready to go," Schmidt said.
"He's got that experience to bring to the game as well and he's also capable with the line-out calling.
"He spent a fair bit of time with us in November, when Iain was injured, so again it's a familiarity thing that gives Dan the edge.
"I've no doubt that he won't let us down. He's really excited about the opportunity and no doubt at some stage he'll get an opportunity on the park."
It will be a big day for the Kearney brothers, Rob and Dave, who have been named at 15 and 11 respectively. Full-back Rob will be winning his 50th cap alongside his young brother for whom this is a first Six Nations start.
The starting line-up includes a dozen of the 15 who, in November, were within moments of registering a first-ever Irish victory over New Zealand. The absentees are D'Arcy and injured 2013 Lions pair Tommy Bowe and Sean O'Brien, with Ulster's Chris Henry deputising for the latter.
Given the quality of Ireland's performance on November 24, no-one could begrudge those to whom Schmidt has given a vote of confidence.
With Ireland hosting champions, Wales, next Saturday, Schmidt hopes to be in a position to consider injured scrum-half Eoin Reddan (calf) and Luke Fitzgerald (hip).
"They are both in the same basket. I guess we won't know until next week whether either will be right for the second round, against Wales," he said.