…Kidney: Changes Not Based On Rotation Policy…Wood: O’Driscoll’s Confidence Is Back…Scots Looking Forward To Facing Ireland’s Big Hitters…Say What?…Numbers Game…
KIDNEY: CHANGES NOT BASED ON ROTATION POLICY: Ireland coach Declan Kidney has not made the four changes to the team to face Scotland on the basis that a rotation policy will then kick in against Wales on Saturday week.
Some observers felt that the Irish management’s decision to alter the starting line-up for the Scotland game – bringing in Gordon D’Arcy, Peter Stringer, Rory Best and Denis Leamy – meant that they are holding the demoted players in check for the Wales encounter.
When asked was there an element of rotation in his selection this week, Kidney said: “No, that would be your word rather than mine. I don’t believe in that really.
“You just see who’s going well at the time and you make the changes as deems fit.
“That’s the way we’re trying to play as well – just play what’s in front of us, see the lie of the land on any given day, the weather conditions, maybe what way the referee is interpretating the breakdown, all these different areas.
“Just play smart and that’s what we feel we’ve done in selection.”
Having started the first three games of the Championship, Paddy Wallace, Tomas O’Leary, Jerry Flannery and Jamie Heaslip were understandably disappointed about missing out on a place in the side to face Scotland.
But Kidney explained that the players took it in good heart and are determined to assist in whatever way they can this week.
“That’s the down side of it. As delighted as I am for the four guys coming in, I’m equally disappointed for the four guys left out.
“It’s been very difficult to go to four guys who have given everything, put themselves out for the team and then they don’t get to start on Saturday.
“But because of their belief in the team and the squad, they’ve been willing to buy into that and that’s what it takes to win competitions. You need a squad and that’s what we’re trying to build.”
One of the tightest calls was at scrum half where in edging out O’Leary, the vastly experienced Peter Stringer is set to make his first start for Ireland since last June.
“(Strings and Tomas) have been going well but Redser (Eoin Reddan) has been training with us as well. There’s good, healthy competition for places,” Kidney added.
“I’m a believer in that players bring each other along as much as the coach. Once you have healthy competition for a place and there’s good respect between them, all players will flourish.
“Isaac (Boss) is chasing them down too, so we’re quite fortunate in that position.”
WOOD: O’DRISCOLL’S CONFIDENCE IS BACK: Former Ireland captain Keith Wood reckons one of the main reasons Ireland have conquerored all before them so far in this year’s RBS 6 Nations is the return to form of his successor as skipper, Brian O’Driscoll.
Speaking to Setanta Sports, Wood said he has been delighted to see O’Driscoll back close to his best with his try-scoring performances against Italy, France and England most recently.
“His performance against England was fantastic to watch. I think he has been injured for the past couple of years – he has been carrying niggling injuries all along and he has come in for a lot of criticism, some of it justified,” Wood opined.
“But in this season’s Six Nations he’s grown in each game, he’s scored in each game and he’s getting better in each game…the confidence is back.
“And when Ireland were stuttering against England, he took the game by the scruff of the neck and delivered.
“He was almost bullied off the field, so he did incredibly well considering.
“I spoke to him directly after the game. He was a bit sore, he was tired and he was a little bit emotional – but I was thrilled for him.”
Wood has been a long-time admirer of O’Driscoll’s play and is backing his former team-mate to lead Ireland to the promised land later this month by securing the nation’s first Grand Slam since 1948.
“I just remember the game we won in 2000 against France. He scored a hat trick of tries that day and everyone was saying, ‘isn’t it great, he scored a hat trick?’
“But he was the best player on the field by a mile, even without scoring the three tries. All the rest of his play was phenomenal. He’s a very special talent.
“Things are looking positive, so I just hope we get something tangible and substantial out of this year. It’s Ireland all the way (for the title) for me.”
Commenting on the threat posed by Scotland this weekend, Wood added: “I always hated playing Scotland and I hated going to Murrayfield as a player. It’s a pretty uncomfortable place to go.
“To call a country a ‘banana skin’ is a bit of an insult but they fulfil that perfectly. I’m a bit nervous about Saturday but I think we are the better team and that we will win.
“There’s no doubt that the guys will go into the game with their feet on the ground though, because just as Declan Kidney has the skill of saying nothing, he has the skill of deflecting expectation.”
SCOTS LOOKING FORWARD TO FACING IRELAND’S BIG HITTERS: Jim Hamilton may have been a late inclusion in the Scotland team to take on Ireland this weekend, but the Edinburgh lock is very much up to speed on his opponents.
Hamilton, after passing a fitness test and edging Alastair Kellock out of the home side, is confident that he, Jason White and back-up lock Nathan Hines can cause problems for the Irish lineout at Murrayfield.
Giving his opinion on Ireland’s second row pairing of Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan, he said: “The Irish are a very forward and lineout-oriented team and have two of the best locks around.
“Ireland base their game around Paul O’Connell. He is the central figure, the cornerstone of their team.
“So if we can get some ascendancy in the lineout, where we have been playing well, then that will set us in good stead for the rest of the game.
“Paul is a good player. He’s found the form of three years ago, he’s back up there if not better.
“Testing yourself against, arguably, the best in his position in the world at the moment – you can’t ask any more.”
Scotland centre Max Evans, older brother of left winger Thom, is also looking forward to locking horns with Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll for the first time in his career.
He said: “I’m really excited about facing O’Driscoll. I haven’t played against him even in the Magners League games.
“It seems a bit crazy. Some of the guys have been saying to me, ‘you will know him already’ and have been trying to give me little pointers.
“But I’ve had to tell them I haven’t played against him. In a way it is a good thing because he has not played against me either. I’m looking forward to it.”
“We were lucky enough that Rala, our bag man, was able to get on to Christy Moore who came in and did a private gig for the squad and the management.
“It was a great night that we really enjoyed. To have someone of Christy’s quality come in and put on a show like he did was great.
“He was so approachable and nice to us all. A few guys sang with him and I was lucky enough to be one of those – Luke (Fitzgerald), Denis Leamy and Ronan (O’Gara) sung as well. It was a great night. I sang ‘City of Chicago’.”
– Ireland lock Donncha O’Callaghan talks about the private gig which Christy Moore treated the Irish camp to on Monday evening and his own considerable singing talents
“We have four guys who have been training really well and done well in the Magners League matches they’ve played in.
“Some of them are coming back from injuries and when they’ve come on they’ve done a good job.
“There’s no problem in playing the four of them. The problem comes in who to leave out. They’ve done nothing wrong, it’s just when new guys come in someone has to lose out.
“We’ve been trying to build a squad over the last few weeks away from any attention. This is the first time it’s gone public.”
– Ireland coach Declan Kidney explains the reasons behind the four changes made to the team for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Scotland, emphasising the sense of wanting to build a squad
“I’ve played many times with ‘Darce’ at provincial level and with Ireland. Whenever a player comes in, you try to forge a partnership with him and we’ll try and pick up where we left off.
“It’s tough on Paddy (Wallace) because he’s played some good games but Darce brings a different element and hopefully we’ll see that on Saturday.
“He’s worked hard to get back in after being injured for so long and has shown huge patience.
“A lot of the guys would have lost their head after hearing so much bad news. But he looked after himself and now it’s paid off, so all credit to him.”
– Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll replies to a question about Gordon D’Arcy’s recovery from injury and his promotion back into the team to face Scotland this weekend, which will rekindle the O’Driscoll-D’Arcy centre partnership
32 – Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara is the current top points scorer in the 2009 RBS 6 Nations, with 32 points, three ahead of Wales’ Stephen Jones.
O’Gara was top of the points list for the 2005, 2006 and 2007 RBS 6 Nations and finished second to England’s Jonny Wilkinson last year
54 – Peter Stringer’s elevation to the Ireland starting line-up will see him earn his 54th Test start with O’Gara as Ireland’s half-backs.
Stringer and O’Gara’s last start together was against Australia last summer. The world record for half-backs starting together is held by Australia’s George Gregan and Stephen Larkham (76 matches)
5 – Five players famously made their Test debuts for Ireland against Scotland in 2000 – Stringer, O’Gara, John Hayes, Shane Horgan and Simon Easterby.
Stringer, O’Gara and Hayes (winning a record 93rd cap) have all been included in the Irish team for Saturday’s game. Horgan has yet to play in this year’s RBS 6 Nations and Scarlets captain Easterby has retired from international rugby