Some of the provinces’ best performers in the last round of the Heineken Cup will join forces when the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds take on England Saxons in what is expected to be a keenly-contested clash.
‘A’ INTERNATIONAL MATCH: Saturday, January 28
ENGLAND SAXONS v O2 IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS, Sandy Park, Exeter, 5pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)
Team News: Ulster back rower Chris Henry will lead the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds in their game against England Saxons in Exeter on Saturday evening.
Eric Elwood’s selected side boasts a balance of youth and experience, with nine of the matchday squad uncapped at senior level.
Gavin Duffy is the man with that experience in the back-three, with David Kearney and Simon Zebo starting on the wings.
Nevin Spence and Eoin O’Malley will form a new centre partnership at this level outside a half-back partnership of Ian Keatley and Isaac Boss.
In the forwards, Damien Varley starts at hooker and beside him experienced Connacht loosehead prop Brett Wilkinson packs down with Stephen Archer, who has recently broken into the Munster matchday squad and been part of the province’s Heineken Cup run.
Dan Tuohy wins his third cap at this level and partners Mike McCarthy in the second row. John Muldoon, the most experienced player in the squad at this level with 10 Wolfhounds caps to his credit, forms a back row with captain Chris Henry at openside and Rhys Ruddock starting at number 8 to win his first cap for the Wolfhounds.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old flanker James Gaskell will captain England Saxons for the first time, leading a side with an average age of just 24 years and four months.
Jon Callard has also included senior internationals Delon Armitage, Matt Banahan, Ugo Monye, Matt Mullan and Paul Doran-Jones in the starting line-up.
Centre Matt Hopper, half-backs Freddie Burns and Ben Spencer and number 8 Thomas Waldrom feature for the Saxons for the first time with more newcomers on the bench in the shape of hooker Chris Brooker and winger Jonny May.
The 21-year-old Burns and Spencer (19) form a young half-back pairing – Spencer is part of the current England Under-20 set-up – but both have demonstrated their big game temperament this season in the Aviva Premiership and the Heineken Cup for Gloucester and Saracens respectively.
ENGLAND SAXONS: Delon Armitage (London Irish); Ugo Monye (Harlequins), Matt Hopper (Harlequins), Billy Twelvetrees (Leicester Tigers), Matt Banahan (Bath), Freddie Burns (Gloucester), Ben Spencer (Saracens); Matt Mullan (Worcester Warriors), Joe Gray (Harlequins), Paul Doran-Jones (Northampton Saints), Matt Garvey (London Irish), George Robson (Harlequins), James Gaskell (Sale Sharks) (capt), Andy Saull (Saracens), Thomas Waldrom (Leicester Tigers).
Replacements: Chris Brooker (Harlequins), Rupert Harden (Gloucester), Kearnan Myall (Sale Sharks), Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs), Paul Hodgson (London Irish), Ryan Lamb (Northampton Saints), Jonny May (Gloucester).
O2 IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS: Gavin Duffy (Galwegians/Connacht); David Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster), Eoin O’Malley (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Nevin Spence (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster); Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster), Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster); Brett Wilkinson (Galwegians/Connacht), Damien Varley (Garryowen/Munster), Stephen Archer (Cork Constitution/Munster), Dan Tuohy (Ballymena/Ulster), Mike McCarthy (Buccaneers/Connacht), John Muldoon (Galwegians/Connacht), Chris Henry (Ballymena/Ulster) (capt), Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster).
Replacements: Mike Sherry (Garryowen/Munster), Ronan Loughney (Galwegians/Connacht), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Kevin McLaughlin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster), Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster), Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster).
Referee: Cedric Marchat (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): England Saxons to win: 1/3; Draw: 25/1; O2 Ireland Wolfhounds to win: 9/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (O2 Ireland Wolfhounds) – “The games against the Saxons are always highly competitive affairs as you would expect and results have tended to go with the home side.
“But I think we have a good mix in our side and the key message is that we have to match them on all fronts, especially in the physical stakes, to come away with a win.
“Eoin (O’Malley) and Nevin have done well over the last couple of days as a pairing and I am looking forward to see how both Simon (Zebo) and David Kearney travel on the wings after a good couple of weeks for them with their provinces.
“We have a touch more experience in our pack, which I think will be important for this game and good spine through it with Dan (Tuohy) and Mike (McCarthy) giving us some really good ability across the set piece and in the carrying stakes to compliment a back row that I think can make a good impression.
“I would expect a really good atmosphere for the game and I know the players are looking forward to it.”
Jon Callard (England Saxons) – “It is a new era for us, there’s a lot of youth and energy in this squad and we’ll go into the game with a ‘no fear’ attitude.
“We want to see the players express themselves and at the same time develop the streak of pragmatism you need to win big games. We’ve seen in Europe the strength of Irish rugby at the moment but the challenge motivates and excites us.
“James (Gaskell) is a smart player, a real calming influence and he demonstrates his authority by his actions on the pitch.
“He’s the leader of a group of leaders and we want to promote individual responsibility. For example Paul Doran-Jones runs the scrum, George Robson the lineout, Freddie Burns and Ben Spencer will control the tempo, and Delon Armitage brings his vision and authority at full-back.”
Recent Meetings –
2009: Churchill Cup final: England Saxons 22 Ireland ‘A’ 49, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Denver
2010: England Saxons 17 Ireland ‘A’ 13, Recreation Ground
2011: O2 Ireland Wolfhounds 20 England Saxons 11, Ravenhill