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Six Nations: McFadden to make debut

Fergus McFadden is in line to win his first Ireland cap as part of an exciting backline against Italy in Rome on Saturday but, elsewhere, coach Declan Kidney looks set to opt for bulk and experience against an ultra-physical Italian outfit.

Paul O'Connell is expected to be included in the second row when Kidney announces his side at lunchtime today and, despite injury robbing Ireland of a clutch of front-line players such as Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris, the Lions captain believes this Irish squad is stronger than the Grand Slam-winning group of two years ago.

“We are probably a bit further down the track in terms of being a squad than we were two years ago, through the lads rotating a little bit and through more players coming through,” said O'Connell yesterday.

“Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip are two of the main injuries we have and you look at the back row we still have available to us it just goes to show the strong situation we are in.”

Gordon D'Arcy and captain Brian O'Driscoll are expected to continue their Leinster partnership in midfield with McFadden and Keith Earls on the wings and Luke Fitzgerald in his favoured full-back position.

There was encouraging news on the injury front yesterday with team manager Paul McNaughton revealing that Heaslip was “back running” and no longer wearing the protective boot over his damaged ankle while winger Shane Horgan has had an injection on his injured leg that “went well”.

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