There was little surprise when Ireland coach Declan Kidney announced an unchanged team for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations showdown with England. With two wins from two and a clean bill of health, Kidney has backed the same personnel to do the business against Martin Johnson’s side.
It will be ‘seconds out, round three’ for Declan Kidney and his players this weekend as they go toe-to-toe with an England team looking to get their Championship bid back on track after losing 23-15 to Wales last time out.
Top of the RBS 6 Nations table after opening wins over France and Italy, Ireland have been arguably the most impressive side in the tournament to date.
So in naming an unchanged starting line-up for the England game, will the continuity in selection help Ireland build on the momentum of the earlier rounds?
Kidney said: “When guys come together as a few new combinations, or combinations that were new two games ago, you can see every training session adds a little bit to the solidity and just the natural flow of passes – even from where it was three weeks ago.
“So it (the continuity) does help but you still have to try, at the same time, to be fair to the guys that you aren’t picking.
“There is such quality there that if I did make a few changes, maybe the team could even be that little bit stronger.
“It’s on the balance of things as to whether you stay with the guys who have gone well in the last two matches or you bring in a freshness at this stage.
“On that balance, we’ve just gone with the same fifteen to start and we’ve changed up one thing in the subs. Even within the subs, there are other guys who are starting to put their hands up to take their places.”
The one change to Ireland’s 22-man squad sees Mick O’Driscoll take over from Malcolm O’Kelly as second row cover on the replacements bench.
Explaining that particular decision, Kidney said: “Well the second row is probably one of the most sought after positions in the set-up at the moment.
“You have Mick who played in the Magners League at the weekend and Bob (Casey) and Ryan (Caldwell) played very well in the ‘A’ game. Other lads…Leo (Cullen) has been out injured.
“Mal has been going very well, he’s the most capped player in Irish rugby history.
“With some much competition for places it is very important to keep an eye on how things go in training, and how they go in the Magners League and how they go in the ‘A’ games as regards guys coming through.
“Mick had been going very well until he picked up the shoulder injury. He went well again for Munster last weekend and I just thought he deserved the nod there.”
Since taking over, the Irish coach has spoken at length about developing a panel of players that can compete consistently at international level and continually push for first team recognition.
Asked about naming an unchanged side for the three game in-a-row and how this fits in with developing the squad structure, Kidney spoke about the positives that he has seen out on the training pitches.
“I think that’s where I find international different from provincial. In provincial you maybe have 20 games a year and you can chop and change a little bit. The window here (at international level) is so short.
“The ‘A’ games are vitally important to us, unfortunately the English game was called off. We had some guys playing (against Scotland ‘A’) who are in training with us now – because they’re just very good players – but I felt that they needed game-time.
“And we brought some younger guys in with us, so in terms of developing a panel a bit of that is done, I’d like to think, behind the scenes.
“We brought in some younger guys like Devin Toner and Fergus McFadden – he went very well at training when he came in – some guys that aren’t always seen.
“They build up the pressure on the senior guys or the guys that get a go and the lads see that at training, so when they talk about the competition for places it’s not just lip service.”
He added: “Those guys who came in, the lads who went at the ‘A’ game, we had a couple of good wins in the Magners League over the weekend. All that builds a pressure from underneath.
“If you’re worrying about your place, that spurs you on to play better when you go out against opposition.”