Will the Ireland ‘A’ players end the season on a high by lifting the Churchill Cup for the first time, or will England Saxons be crowned champions of the summer tournament for the third successive year?
2009 CHURCHILL CUP FINAL: Sunday, June 21
IRELAND ‘A’ v ENGLAND SAXONS, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colorado, 2.30pm local time/9.30pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2)
Team News: Leinster’s Heineken Cup-winning out-half Jonathan Sexton will don the number 10 jersey for Ireland ‘A’ in Sunday’s Churchill Cup final clash with England Saxons.
There are seven changes to the Ireland ‘A’ team for Sunday’s cup decider from the side that won last time out against Georgia.
The Irish side secured two bonus point wins in Pool A, over Canada (30-19) and Georgia (40-5), on the way to the final.
Declan Kidney and his Ireland coaching staff have continued to rotate the squad during the tournament to give vital experience to the players and to allow them to look at the players up against international opposition.
With some players having already featured during the senior tour, the Ireland coaching staff has again opted to vary the selections and this is the third different team that has taken the field in Denver, with four of those changes for Sunday’s encounter in the back-line.
Felix Jones retains his place at full-back and is joined in the back-three by Denis Hurley who starts on the right wing instead of Simon Keogh, who will now act as scrumhalf cover on the bench.
Johne Murphy is selected on the left wing for the third consecutive game and Keith Matthews returns to the starting team at centre in place of James Downey.
Isaac Boss returns at scrum half and partners Jonathan Sexton, who, after coming on in both games against Canada and Georgia, starts at out-half.
Chris Henry comes into the team at number 8 in place of John Muldoon, who moves to the replacements, with blindside flanker Neil Best being named as captain of an Ireland side for the first time.
Devin Toner, man-of-the-match in the opening game against Canada, returns to the second row in place of Trevor Hogan.
The final change in the team is at hooker, where Sean Cronin swaps places with Denis Fogarty to start the game, with Fogarty named amongst the replacements.
Commenting on his selection as captain and the prospects for Sunday, Neil Best said: “It’s a great honour for me to captain the team and I was delighted when Declan asked me to do the job.
“It’s been a great tournament for us so far and we are looking forward to Sunday.
“Playing in England, I obviously now quite a lot of the Saxons squad and they are an excellent side, so we really need to bring our best performance out for the last game.”
Meanwhile, the selected England Saxons team sees the return of lock Stuart Hooper, who led the Saxons in their 28-20 victory over Argentina Jaguars in their first pool match, and Luke Narraway will start at number 8 in place of Tom Guest.
Neil Briggs and Chris Jones give way on the bench to Joe Ward and Dean Schofield respectively. Ward and Schofield are both featuring in the English matchday squad for the first time this tournament after recovering from injury.
And Shane Geraghty of London Irish has also recovered from a groin strain to take his place on the bench.
IRELAND ‘A’: Felix Jones (Seapoint/Leinster); Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster), Fergus McFadden (UCD/Leinster), Keith Matthews (Buccaneers/Connacht), Johne Murphy (Leicester Tigers); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Isaac Boss (Ballymena/Ulster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht), Tony Buckley (Shannon/Munster), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Neil Best (Northampton Saints) (capt), Niall Ronan (Shannon/Munster), Chris Henry (Ballymena/Ulster).
Replacements: Denis Fogarty (Cork Constitution/Munster), Bryan Young (Ballymena/Ulster), Trevor Hogan (Blackrock College/Leinster), John Muldoon (Galwegians/Connacht), Simon Keogh (OId Belvedere/Leinster), Niall O’Connor (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), James Downey (Northampton Saints).
ENGLAND SAXONS: Nick Abendanon (Bath); Noah Cato (Saracens), Dominic Waldouck (London Wasps), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Tom Varndell (Leicester Tigers); Stephen Myler (Northampton Saints), Micky Young (Newcastle Falcons); David Flatman (Bath), Rob Webber (London Wasps), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Stuart Hooper (Bath), Nick Kennedy (London Irish), Phil Dowson (Newcastle Falcons) (capt), Ben Woods (Leicester Tigers), Luke Narraway (Gloucester).
Replacements: Tom Mercey (Saracens), Joe Ward (London Wasps), Dean Schofield (Sale Sharks), Tom Guest (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (London Wasps), Danny Cipriani (London Wasps), Shane Geraghty (London Irish).
Referee: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland ‘A’ to win: 5/2; Draw: 20/1; England Saxons to win: 2/7
Pre-Match Quotes: Declan Kidney (Ireland ‘A’) – “Sunday is a massive challenge for the team to play the defending Churchill Cup champions, but one they are all looking forward to.
“England has huge strength in depth and could easily put out another two or three sides of similar strength, so it will require a really good performance from us.
“The Saxons has been impressive in their first two games and I am sure they will want to retain their title which will give them a three-in-a-row.
“Our games in the Churchill Cup and the senior tour were all about exposing the players to international level rugby and also allowing the coaches to work with the players more closely.
“The previous two games (against Canada and Georgia) allowed us to do that and it has been a good experience for all of us.”
Stuart Lancaster (England Saxons) – “There have been some difficult selection decisions. I have been delighted with all the players and how they have responded and it says a tremendous amount about the character in the squad.
“For us it’s a massive challenge. We respect Ireland ‘A’ with the quality of players and management they have over here.
“We have some young players and some very experienced Premiership players and our challenge has been to mould then into a team and produce performances we are proud of.
“We have had two tough games which we have leant a lot about the players and ourselves on the journey and I’m sure we will learn a lot more come Sunday.
“But whatever the outcome, rest assured they are a committed group of players who will do their best and be proud to represent England in the final.”
Pre-Match Links –
Churchill Cup Records – Ireland ‘A’: 2006 – Won Plate final; 2007 – Won Plate final; 2008 – Won Plate final
England Saxons: 2003 – Won Cup final; 2004 – Lost Cup final; 2005 – Won Cup final; 2006 – Lost Plate final; 2007 – Won Cup final; 2008 – Won Cup final
Recent Form: Ireland ‘A’ – 2008/09: ‘A’ International: Ireland ‘A’ v England Saxons (match postponed due to unplayable pitch); ‘A’ International: Ireland ‘A’ 35 Scotland ‘A’ 10; Churchill Cup: Ireland ‘A’ 30 Canada 19; Churchill Cup: Ireland ‘A’ 40 Georgia 5
England Saxons – 2008/09: ‘A’ International: England Saxons 66 Portugal 0; ‘A’ International: Ireland ‘A’ v England Saxons (match postponed due to unplayable pitch); Churchill Cup: England Saxons 28 Argentina Jaguars 20; Churchill Cup: USA 17 England Saxons 56
Recent Meetings: 2006 – ‘A’ International: England Saxons 18 Ireland ‘A’ 33; Churchill Cup Plate final: England Saxons 27 Ireland ‘A’ 30; 2007 – ‘A’ International: Ireland ‘A’ 5 England Saxons 32; 2008 – ‘A’ International: England Saxons 31 Ireland ‘A’ 13; Churchill Cup Pool A: Ireland ‘A’ 12 England Saxons 34