Soon to retire, Munster and Ireland stalwart Mick O’Driscoll captains the Barbarians against his countrymen tonight in Gloucester (7.45pm) but all eyes will be on those in the Ireland XV looking to take their last chance to earn a ticket to New Zealand.
Ireland head coach Declan Kidney is looking to fill four vacancies ahead of the three-Test series against the All Blacks, and will finalise his 29-man touring squad set to leave London for Auckland on Thursday with a prop, second row, back row and scrum-half to be named, most likely tomorrow morning.
The permutations at number nine as to who travels with Eoin Reddan and Conor Murray were cleared somewhat yesterday when Isaac Boss was ruled out of the tour to the country of his birth due to the quad injury which forced him out of Leinster’s Heineken Cup final squad.
That paves the way for Ulster’s Paul Marshall to stake his claim from the replacements’ bench at Kingsholm tonight while Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson and Ulster’s lock Dan Tuohy and back row Chris Henry will also be under extra scrutiny as they bid to make the flight south of the Equator.
Ulster wing Craig Gilroy is another named to face the Barbarians tonight for his first senior start, although there will be no caps awarded. The three uncapped players already named in the squad, prop Declan Fitzpatrick, hooker Mike Sherry and wing Simon Zebo were all also included in the team named yesterday.
There is experience too, with Ireland’s most capped player Ronan O’Gara at fly-half, in a Munster half-back partnership with Conor Murray, and the man chosen to captain his side, shaking hands with provincial team-mate O’Driscoll.
Paddy Wallace partners twice-capped Ulster team-mate Darren Cave in midfield with Keith Earls starting at full-back in a back three with Gilroy and Zebo.
Behind the uncapped front row, Tuohy has Munster player of the year Donnacha Ryan for a second-row partner while the absence of Leinster players is also felt in the back row where Peter O’Mahony starts at number eight with John Muldoon and Henry on the flanks.
They will face a powerful Barbarians back row in this non-televised encounter at Kingsholm in the form of Georgia’s Mamuka Gorgodze, Springbok Francois Louw and France’s Raphael Lakafia, only the Frenchman having featured in the heavy defeat to England last Sunday.
There are 11 changes in total from that 57-26 loss with Ulster’s John Afoa, Stade Francais wing Paul Sackey and Gloucester pair Mike Tindall and Rory Lawson the only players retained from Sunday.
Tindall will partner Damien Traille in a powerful centre partnership with Lawson at scrum-half inside former Leinster favourite Felipe Contepomi. Current Leinster hero Isa Nacewa is named on the Baa-Baas bench.
It is two years since an Ireland XV last played a Barbarians side and they have a defeat to avenge, having gone down 29-23 at Thomond Park in June 2010.
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