Declan Kidney has mixed up his selection for the game against Russia, but has stopped a long way short from naming a second-string side.
Rob Kearney is retained at fullback, allowing him the gametime that he needs to get up to speed. The match against Australia was only his third game since November 2010, and while he contributed well, there’s a lot more in him.
The wings are Andrew Trimble [left] and Fergus McFadden [right], with the lightweight centre combination of Keith Earls and Paddy Wallace in midfield. Earls and Wallace started the warm-up game in Bordeaux together, and there should be absolutely no issues for them in defense against a Russian team which has had a tough time of making it click so far in the group stages. Wallace is a smashing distributor in the No12 jersey, and should be able to release all that pace he has outside him and wring some tries out of the threequarters. It’ll be his first start for Ireland in his third World Cup – it’s been a long time coming, and hopefully we’ll see the best of him.
The Mole would have swapped McFadden for Earls positionally [Earls has often gone on the record about not liking being selected in different positions], but I’d imagine that Declan Kidney sees him as the long-term replacement for O’Driscoll – he has played an awful lot of rugby for Munster in the No13 jersey. While his most recent outing against England in the last of the warm-up games was nothing short of a disaster, he won’t be up against Manu Tuilagi this time around. Thank God.
It shouldn’t be an issue against a team as limited as the Russians, but personally I’d just select the centre at centre and the winger at winger. Still, I’ve agreed before with people who’ve said that the Irish coach should act autonomously from the provincial coaches … i.e. if he sees McFadden as a winger and Joe Schmidt sees him as a centre, so be it. Kidney’s the one picking this team.
Gamblor [still unretired!] takes the reins at outhalf, outside Isaac Boss. Starting Boss is a great call from Kidney. He’s well-used to coming off the bench for Eoin Reddan at Leinster, and they form a powerful one-two combination. A good game from him will allow him to challenge Conor Murray for the bench spot against Italy.
Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tony Buckley make up the front row. I’m surprised to see Healy in there with Tom Court having had such a good game against the USA, and Healy putting in a mammoth effort against the Wallabies … but there you go. Cronin gets his first minutes of gametime in the World Cup; with Flannery having gone home, he’s clearly the second-choice hooker in the squad. Mushy should have no problem in the scrums against the Russians, and hopefully we can see some good carries and workrate from him. I’m hoping for a few special moves [back-back-forward+triangle] from the big fellah – maybe the sumo push or the haybale clearout.
Leo Cullen and Donncha O’Callaghan are together in the second row, with Cullen captaining the side. O’Callaghan had a very good game against Australia, full of effective work and endeavour, and to be honest I expected to see him rested for this one. Cullen captained the side in three of the five warm-up games [vs Scotland in Edinburgh, vs France in Bordeaux and vs Connacht in Donnybrook] and while he will be disappointed to have fallen behind Donnacha Ryan for the sub’s bench against the Wobblies, he will see this as a chance to get himself right back in there for the Italian match.
The backrow is Donnacha Ryan at blindside, Sean O’Brien at openside and Jamie Heaslip at No8. O’Brien probably needs the gametime at No7, and missed the first match against the US. He’s capable of breaking the line and get Ireland going forward even when we’re having a muddle of a performance, so it’s good to have him there. The Mole is happy to see Ferris rested. He really shouldn’t be needed against a team like Russia and has had two cracking matches in the tournament already; hopefully he can recharge the batteries and come out firing against the Italians. Heaslip certainly does need gametime, as he’s not anywhere near like his best at the moment.
The bench is composed of Rory Best, Mike Ross, Dennis Leamy, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Jonny Sexton and Geordan Murphy. It’s the sort of selection that pretty much guarantees a lot of chopping and changing in the second half, but hopefully Ireland can keep some degree of shape and build a decent score.