Young guns hoping to put down a marker in A team mission

WITH Limoges a prohibitive 400km south of Paris, there won’t be too many Irish fans at tonight’s ‘A’ international between France and Ireland (6.30pm).

More’s the pity, because though Limoges is more renowned for its past - 19th century porcelain in particular - this game promises to offer a fascinating glimpse into the not-so-distant future of Irish rugby.

There was a time when a place on an Irish ‘A’ side was more of a consolation prize for senior pros hovering around the fringes of the senior squad, but now youth is given its chance.

Eddie O’Sullivan explained this week: “Our opinion is there is not a lot to be gained by taking eight or 10 seasoned internationals into an A’ game against France.

“They’ll not become better players because of it and we’re not going to learn any more about them. There’s more to be gained from putting younger players in and giving them the opportunity to gain experience.”

Unfortunately, Ian Dowling won’t be one of the new breed trying to put down a marker tonight as the Munster winger strained his hip flexor muscle in training on Wednesday morning.

Ulster full-back Bryn Cunningham, who joined the squad as cover for Dowling, moves on to the replacements’ bench with Connacht’s John Hearty moving to the right wing in place of Dowling.

Dowling’s Munster colleague Barry Murphy will start in the centre alongside Leinster’s Kieran Lewis. Both have impressed in Celtic League and Heineken Cup fixtures this season.

Mick O’Driscoll captains the side while Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip will be hoping to advance his cause at number eight now that Anthony Foley’s grip on the back of the scrum has come to an end.

Coach Michael Bradley will also be reporting back to O’Sullivan on the progress of three exiles in the first 15.

Harlequins’ Gavin Duffy starts at full-back, Jeremy Staunton of Wasps takes the pivot at out-half while Leicester’s Shane Jennings fills one of the flanks.

Bob Casey, who impressed in the 15-9 win over France in this fixture last year, has not been asked to take part in what is Ireland’s first ‘A’ game since that Donnybrook encounter.

IRELAND A (v France, Limoges, 6.30pm): G. Duffy (Harlequins), J. Hearty (Connacht), B. Murphy (Munster), K. Lewis (Leinster), C. McPhillips (Connacht), J. Staunton (Wasps), T. O’Leary (Munster); R. Hogan (Connacht), J. Fogarty (Connacht), B. Young (Ulster), M. O’Driscoll, capt, (Munster), M. McCullough (Ulster), N. Best (Ulster), S. Jennings (Leicester), J. Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: B. Blaney (Leinster), R. McCormack (Leinster), L. Cullen (Leicester), R. Wilson (Ulster), C. Keane (Connacht), P. Wallace (Ulster), B. Cunningham (Ulster).

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