Ireland unchanged for England showdown
February 24, 2009
Ronan O'Gara will claim his 90th Ireland cap against England © Getty Images
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has decided to stick with the side that defeated Italy 38-9 for the Six Nations visit of England to Croke Park on Saturday.
Paddy Wallace has recovered from the facial injury that caused him to leave the field early against France and Italy, and he partners Brian O'Driscol in the centre. O'Driscoll will win his 91st cap, while Ronan O'Gara wins his 90th and joins O'Driscoll, John Hayes and Malcolm O'Kelly as the only Irishmen to cross the 90-cap mark.
In the sole change to the squad, Munster lock Mick O'Driscoll replaces O'Kelly as cover in the second-row. Many had speculated that Leinster centre Gordon D'Arcy may force his way in to the starting side, but Wallace has retained his place under scrutiny from the management.
"We went through the whole team selection. The team are training so well and we took that into account," said Kidney. "The lads who came on as subs in the first two matches have put their hands up, as have the guys on Magners League duty at the weekend.
"Second row is probably one of the most sought-after positions in the set-up. Mick had been going well prior to getting the shoulder injury and he played very well in the Magners League on the weekend, so I felt he deserved his chance. I'm sure Malcolm will force his way back into the side.
"There are lots of guys I'd love to play, good players who aren't getting a chance to play. That's the making of a good side," he said. "The players in the side know that if there's any relaxation at all there are guys ready to take their place. In terms of developing the squad work has been done on that behind the scenes. Talk about competition for places is not just lip service.
"Pressure is being applied from beneath and if you're worried about your place in the team then it spurs you on to play better."
When Ireland last hosted England at Croke Park they ran out comfortable 43-13 winners, but this time round Kidney is expecting further improvement from England.
"England's performance in the last match against the Welsh was well up on the week before," said Kidney. "I suppose that the other thing that concerns me is the quality of the people in the background. I've worked with Mike Ford before and my respect for Martin Johnson is huge. What's also important is that they've had two free weeks in the run-up to this match.
"If they made that much of an improvement in one week in between Italy and Wales, who knows what kind of improvements they've made in the past fortnight? That two-week preparation is a new thing for England because before they might have been playing Guinness Premiership matches in between. You can't overstate the importance of that to any team - getting proper preparation time in between matches."
Ireland: Robert Kearney (UCD - Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Brian O'Driscoll (UCD - Leinster, capt), Paddy Wallace (Ballymena - Ulster), Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College - Leinster), Ronan O'Gara (Cork Constitution - Munster), Tomas O'Leary (Dolphin - Munster), Marcus Horan (Shannon - Munster), Jerry Flannery (Shannon - Munster), John Hayes (Bruff- Munster), Donncha O'Callaghan (Cork Constitution - Munster), Paul O'Connell (Young Munster - Munster), Stephen Ferris (Dungannon - Ulster), David Wallace (Garryowen - Munster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas - Leinster)
Replacements: Rory Best (Banbridge - Ulster), Tom Court (Malone - Ulster), Mick O'Driscoll (Cork Constitution - Munster), Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution - Munster), Peter Stringer (Shannon - Munster), Gordon D'Arcy (Lansdowne - Leinster), Geordan Murphy (Leicester)
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