10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
The first question that was asked was the now usual, Humphreys or O'Gara at 10, one.
There was no real drama about that selection." he said."It'a always a difficult call in the current climate because our two fly-halves are two top class players. Like we always do, we looked back at the last game, the Welsh game again, David had a fine game until he was taken off with about nine minutes to go, plus injury time. Then, having said that, when Ronan came on, he was very heroic in his performance particularly that last ditch drop-goal. "But over the balance of the game we felt the team had functioned well with David. He performed particularly well with his kicking out of hand and off the ground and so really, as before there was no compelling reason to make a change. As I said, it was, and in fact always has been a difficult call all season but I think we are still staying with what is the form player. Again I would say we are very fortunate to have two such talented players as David and Ronan O'Gara."
Explaining the rationale behind the recall for Girvan Dempsey to the bench, O'Sullivan said, "He's really been struggling for a while now with a groin strain which in fact became very chronic at one point. But to the credit of the medical team, they've managed extremely well and he's now back to full fitness. The consideration was the amount of time he's been out so it would have been a big risk to start him in the game with not a lot of match practice. But he's s very good rugby player. He does tend to come back very quickly and doesn't need a lot of game time and we just feel he's a good addition to the bench in that he'll give us extra coverage particularly in the back three." The return of Victor Costello was expected and with Dempsey in the frame, John Kelly was likely to miss out, but perhaps the real surprise was the inclusion of Paul O'Connell among the replacements with Leo Cullen excluded from the squad for the first time this season and O'Sullivan admitted that having to break the news was as difficult a conversation he has ever had with a player.
"Yes it was one of those conversations, no coach likes having. It was a very hard call between Leo Cullen and Paul O'Connell for the second row place on the bench. But again you're looking at a situation at someone coming off the bench to make an impact on the game and we feel that Paul just slightly edges it.
"Having said that, Leo has performed exceptionally well from the bench and in the team, and it's one of those harsh, heart-breaking calls you have to make but at the end of the day you have to pick what you think is the best combination on the day to get the best result. Leo understands that. He's disappointed but there's an honesty that's been there throughout all our selections and he accepts it."
15. Geordan Murphy (Leicester) 14. Justin Bishop (London Irish. 13. Brian O'Driscoll (Blackrock College/Leinster) - captain 12. Kevin Maggs (Bath) 11. Denis Hickie (St Mary's College/Leinster) 10. David Humphreys (Dungannon/Ulster) 9. Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster) 1. Marcus Horan (Shannon/Munster) 2. Shane Byrne (Blackrock College/Leinster) 3. John Hayes (Shannon/Munster) 4. Gary Longwell (Ballymena/Ulster) 5. Malcolm O'Kelly (St Mary's College/Leinster) 6. Victor Costello (St Mary's College/Leinster) 7. Keith Gleeson (St Mary's College/Leinster) 8. Anthony Foley (Shannon/Munster). Replacements. 16. Frank Sheahan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 17. Justin Fitzpatrick (Dungannon/Ulster) 18. Paul O'Connell (Young Munster/Munster) 19. Alan Quinlan Shannon/MUnster) 20. Guy Easterby (Llanelli) 21. Ronan O'Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster) 22. Girvan Dempsey (Terenure College/Leinster).
England: J Lewsey (Wasps); J Robinson (Sale), B Cohen (Northampton), M Tindall (Bath), W Greenwood (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton); L Dallaglio (Wasps), N Back (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens); B Kay (Leicester), M Johnson capt (Leicester); J Leonard (Harlequins), S Thompson (Northampton), G Rowntree (Leicester).
Replacements: D West (Leicester), T Woodman (Gloucester), D Grewcock (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), K Bracken (Saracens), P Grayson (Northampton), D Luger (Harlequins).