DONAL LENIHAN: Ireland hopefuls to make their case

A. Paddy Jackson

It has been an incredible eight months for the young Ulster out-half.Elevated to first choice 10 for the Heineken Cupsemi-final and final in place of Ian Humphreys followed now by thisselection which sees him ranked as third in the pecking order in thepivotal role at national level.

Given the performances of Ian Keatley and Ian Madigan for Munster and Leinster respectively this season, that is some achievement.

To succeed as a top-class out-half requires nerves of steel. So far he has shown he has that, not least in the manner with which he has survived and recovered from a difficult day in the Twickenham decider against Leinster.

The big challenge today at Thomond Park is to show conclusively that he can direct a big gamewithout the guiding hand of Ulster team-mate Ruan Pienaar. He can’t get sucked into the type of game Fiji want to play.

All of a sudden, Ireland have a plethora of quality young out-halves challenging Jonny Sexton andRonan O’Gara at the top of the pile and we haven’t even mentioned the man chosen to fill Jackson’s role when he was withdrawn from the Junior World Cup in South Africa last summer, JJ Hanrahan.

His performances in that tournament and recently for Munster underlined just what a talent the Castleisland man is. For that reason alone, Jackson needs to seize his chance with both hands today.

B. Iain Henderson

The first time I saw Henderson play was in the second row for the Irish U20 side against Wales last season and it was immediately apparent that he is a special talent in the making. He followed that up with some magnificent performances in that Junior World Cup last summer, both in the second and back row. His work rate, ball-carrying ability and explosiveness in the tackle were superb and the only debate for me surrounds which position he is better suited to.

While Stephen Ferris continues to suffer from knee and ankle injuries, it is a measure of young Henderson’s talent and impact that his presence could minimise the potential loss of Ferris to Ulster over the December period.

Henderson now has the chance to showcase his talents to an even wider audience and a positive showing today could see him become a regular feature on the Irish bench, given his versatility. I applaud the Irish management for elevating him so quickly.

C. Dave Kilcoyne

With all the recent controversy surrounding the number of overseas players occupying front row positions with the provinces, in addition to the fast tracking of New Zealander Michael Bent to the national side, howrefreshing to see a young, homegrown prop-forward grabbing his chance. Dave Kilcoyne announcedhimself to all and sundry with an outstanding Heineken Cup debut for Munster against Racing Metro in Paris only five weeks ago and now finds himself part of the national squad.

If his first cap, as areplacement for Cian Healy while he was in the concussion bin last Saturday, went unnoticed by most people, he has a big opportunity today to make people sit up and takenotice.

It should help his cause that Fiji are not a particularly strong scrummaging unit and he should be well up for the contest against the Fijian captain, the Scarlets’ Deacon Manu.

That should enable Kilcoyne to impose himself in broken play where he has proved a prodigious ball carrier for Munster this season.

He is also an excellent tackler and his work rate in defence will add to the overall efficiency of the team. Kilcoyne was elevated to the Irish bench last weekend at the expense of Ulster’s Tom Court and a good showing today should not only cement that role as back up to Healy for the bigger challenge against Argentina next weekend but also for the Six Nations.

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