Ireland have named a bumper thirty-nine man squad for their Six Nations campaign, incorporating some fringe players as they prepare for the Irish Wolfhounds game against the England Saxons a week on Friday.
The major story of the Ireland squad though is that Jamie Heaslip has been named as captain ahead of Brian Oâ€™Driscoll, after impressing in the role during the autumn.
Declan Kidney has also brought in six new face to the squad in Ulsterâ€™s Paddy Jackson, Lewis Stevenson and Paul Marshall, Leinsterâ€™s Ian Madigan and Connachtâ€™s Robbie Henshaw and Dave McSharry.
He also announced that the full Irish coaching staff will take charge of the Wolfhounds game against England Saxons, a staff that now includes Munster Assistant Coach Anthony Foley and Leinster’s Greg Feek, giving the players a chance to press their claims for a place against Wales in the Six Nations.
The squad is hampered slightly though through the absence through injury to Tommy Bowe, Paul Oâ€™Connell, Stephen Ferris and Dan Tuohy. The loss Ferris in particular is a blow, how the Irish management must wish for just one injury free season from Ferris.
Oâ€™Driscoll has missed the bulk of this season, and has only recently returned to the Leinster side. Speaking about the loss of the captaincy, he seemed to accept that he was better at present to just focus on the rugby, though he expressed some disappointment:
“The captaincy has been a big part of my career and life over the last number of years, and while I was naturally very disappointed not to be leading the team in the Six Nations, when I talked it through with Declan I accepted the reasons behind the decision.â€
â€œI’ve always known that the Rugby World Cup in 2015 was most likely a bridge too far for me, so at some point a player, who will most likely be there for the tournament, needs to build that captaincy experience. Jamie will do a fantastic job and along with the other senior players in the leadership group, I will be giving him all of the support that he needs.”
For Heaslip though it is a chance to build on his work in the Autumn and, with the Irish captaincy sorted, he has the opportunity to press a claim to lead the Lions in the summer.
In accepting the captaincy he displayed the graciousness that probably helped to get him the job, saying:
“I was incredibly honoured when Declan asked me back in November to lead the team in Brian’s absence. To lead your country is the ultimate in any sport.â€
â€œTo get the opportunity again, considering what an inspirational leader Brian is and the other players who could have been chosen to captain the team, is even more humbling.â€
â€œI know Brian as a teammate and as a friend and I will be relying on his and the other players support as we head into the Championship.
Ireland Training Squad (39):
Michael Bent (Leinster),â€¨Rory Best (Ulster),â€¨Isaac Boss (Leinster),â€¨Darren Cave (Ulster),â€¨Tom Court (Ulster),â€¨Sean Cronin (Leinster),â€¨Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster),â€¨Keith Earls (Munster),â€¨Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster),â€¨Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster),â€¨Craig Gilroy (Ulster),â€¨Cian Healy (Leinster),â€¨Jamie Heaslip (Leinster) Captain,â€¨Iain Henderson (Ulster),â€¨Chris Henry (Ulster),â€¨Robbie Henshaw (Connacht),â€¨Paddy Jackson (Ulster),â€¨Rob Kearney (Leinster),â€¨David Kilcoyne (Munster),â€¨Ian Madigan (Leinster),â€¨Paul Marshall (Ulster),â€¨Conor Murray (Munster),â€¨Mike McCarthy (Connacht),â€¨Fergus McFadden (Leinster),â€¨Dave McSharry (Connacht),â€¨Sean O’Brien (Leinster),â€¨Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster),â€¨Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster),â€¨Ronan O’Gara (Munster),â€¨Peter O’Mahony (Munster),â€¨Eoin Reddan (Leinster),â€¨Mike Ross (Leinster),â€¨Donnacha Ryan (Munster),â€¨Jonathan Sexton (Leinster),â€¨Lewis Stevenson (Ulster),â€¨Richardt Strauss (Leinster),â€¨Devin Toner (Leinster),â€¨Andrew Trimble (Ulster),â€¨Simon Zebo (Munster).