Ulster boys given Ireland chance
Three members of next season’s Ulster squad, plus a fourth who has just moved on after two seasons at Ravenhill, are in the Ireland team to play the Barbarians tomorrow night.
The fact that no caps are being awarded for the Mastercard Trophy match at Thomond Park is unlikely to detract from the sense of progress Ulster No 8 Chris Henry and lock Dan Tuohy will feel.
Henry’s inclusion has delighted his many friends and admirers and it comes less than two weeks after he scooped three major prizes at the Magners-sponsored Ulster Rugby Awards.
The No 8’s selection underlines his current standing in coach Declan Kidney’s eyes and with 2011 being a World Cup year Henry now knows that at this point he is very much in the hunt for inclusion when that comes around.
His back row partners are Connacht captain John Muldoon, and Munster’s twice-capped Niall Ronan who was only called into the squad when Leinster flanker Kevin McLaughlin suffered a knee injury last weekend.
O’Donoghue, who has just left Ulster for Leinster, and his new club colleague, centre Fergus McFadden, complete the quartet of uncapped players.
But Kidney has balanced this infusion of fresh blood by opting for the old brigade at half-back where Peter Stringer has nosed his way in ahead of Tomas O’Leary and Eoin Reddan and Ronan O’Gara, rather than Jonathan Sexton, has been given the number 10 jersey.
With Brian O’Driscoll omitted following Saturday night’s Magners League Grand Final against Ospreys, and Paul O’Connell injured, O’Gara will captain.
There are other old hands on board, with Munster pair Marcus Horan and Tony Buckley, starting on the loose and tighthead sides of Connacht hooker Sean Cronin.
Unlike O’Driscoll, Leinster full-back Rob Kearney and wing Shane Horgan are included.
Ulster’s Andrew Trimble completes the back three, while Connacht outside centre Gavin Duffy will provide the midfield support for first-timer McFadden.
Ulster prop Tom Court and centre Paddy Wallace are among the replacements and given the nature of the occasion and the nature of the football the Xavier Rush-captained Barbarians are expected to serve up, they can be confident of seeing action. The full bench is likely to be deployed.
Tommy Bowe, having been pretty busy of late will be rested for the match and he is already looking forward to the summer tour of the southern hemisphere, where he believes a victory will rubber-stamp Ireland’s ambitions to be a force in the next World Cup.
“We have to make sure we play well and get some results on the tour looking ahead to the World Cup in 16 months time,” said Bowe. “We were happy last autumn with the Australia draw after coming from behind and it was also great to beat the world champions South Africa.
“But, realistically, if we want to be considered as serious contenders at the World Cup, we have to pick up some wins away from home this summer.”
Meanwhile coach Allen Clarke has named three Ulster players — Nevin Spence, fly-half James McKinney and hooker Niall Annett — and a fourth as a replacement – scrum-half Michael Heaney for Ireland’s Junior World Championship curtain-raiser against France on Saturday.