The good news is that David Wallace, who suffered a back strain during Ireland’s warm weather camp in Lanzarote recently, has recovered. He is included in the squad, as are hooker Denis Fogarty and centre Gary Connolly who had to be replaced in the course of that match. One major decision has yet to be made, however, and that’s in the second-row where it remains to be seen whether Paul O’Connell, who made a successful return to action after a three months absence in the Connacht game, will come in for either Donncha O’Callaghan and Mick O’Driscoll.
It’s a really difficult call given that O’Callaghan is a Lions Test lock and O’Driscoll has been one of the major successes of the Munster side since his return from a two-year stint with Perpignan. In spite of his status as one of the game’s finest forwards, it could well be that O’Connell will have to settle for a place among the replacements for the first half or so. The same could very well be the situation concerning Brian O’Driscoll. A massive New Year’s Eve crowd - more than 10,000 tickets have already been sold for the eagerly awaited RDS encounter - hope to see the Lions captain start his first game of the season having come through a half hour of the action at Ravenhill on Monday.
However, it is more likely that he will warm the bench once again for the first 40 minutes, while a knock picked up in training by highly promising youngster Robert Kearney could open the way for a quicker return to action than had been expected for Denis Hickie.
The Ireland and Lions wing has been sidelined because of a dislocated fibula since early October and might well have been held back for another week by coach Michael Cheika until Kearney emerged yesterday as a doubtful starter. Enigmatically, the Australian omitted Hickie from his squad of 28 while at the same time declaring “there’s a small chance he could come in.”
If Kearney doesn’t make it and it is decided to keep Hickie for the clash with Llanelli seven days later, then Brendan Burke may keep his place, while a spot will also be found for the fit again Shane Horgan who missed the impressive win over Ulster.
There are a few other permutations to be resolved with Ronan McCormack hopeful of retaining the loose head spot, which would mean Reggie Corrigan would start on the bench.
There are also suggestions that Cameron Jowitt, another to take his chance against Ulster, could be preferred to Eric Miller at number six.
: G. Dempsey; S. Horgan, G. Darcy, K. Lewis, R. Kearney; P. Contepomi, G. Easterby; R. Corrigan, B. Blaney, W. Green, B. Williams, M. O’Kelly, E. Miller, K. Gleeson, J. Heaslip.
: S. Payne; J. Kelly, G. Connolly, T. Halstead, A. Horgan; R. O’Gara, P. Stringer; M. Horan, J. Flannery, J. Hayes, M. O’Driscoll, D. O’Callaghan, D. Leamy, D. Wallace, A. Foley.
: P. O’Connell, M. Lawler, B. Murphy, J. Manning, T. O’Leary; F. Roche, D. Fogarty, J. Flannery, F. Pucciarello, T. Hogan, S. Keogh.