New Ireland faces may have to wait

IRELAND head coach Declan Kidney has added nine new faces to his squad for the opening two RBS 6 Nations matches but the majority of the selection debates for this weekend’s opener with Wales will be contained within his initial 24-man group.

Two weeks after being accused of being overly conservative in his squad selection for the training camp in Limerick, Kidney brought some perspective by bolstering that group to 32 with the pick of the Ireland Wolfhounds squad that fell 23-17 to the England Saxons in Exeter.

Five forwards – the previously capped Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry and Rhys Ruddock as well as the uncapped Brett Wilkinson and Peter O’Mahony — along with backs Denis Hurley and uncapped trio David Kearney, Eoin O’Malley and Simon Zebo have joined 23 of the squad that trained in Limerick last week at the team’s Carton House training base in Kildare.

The one player not retained from the senior gathering was Leo Cullen, who underwent surgery in Sweden on his Achilles’ tendons last week, while his replacement at the camp, Munster’s James Coughlan, was also released.

Munster back row O’Mahony had also been in Limerick as one of a group of young players invited to train with the squad and he has done enough to be considered for selection for Sunday’s Aviva Stadium clash with the Welsh.

With an Irish forward pack that virtually picks itself, save for the decision on who partners Paul O’Connell in the second row, the best the five promoted forwards can expect is to be included on the bench when Kidney’s names his matchday squad tomorrow.

The selection picture for the back division, however, looks slightly more clouded, but again, the newcomers may well be consigned to a watching brief come the weekend as the Ireland management look to utilise Gordon D’Arcy, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls and Fergus McFadden in midfield and on the wings.

Five players for four positions is a headache and as encouraging as the performances of Eoin O’Malley, David Kearney and Simon Zebo were in the A international, they may have to wait for Test recognition.

Kidney, who watched the Wolfhounds alongside skills and kicking coach Mark Tainton on Saturday, did not call in an extra hooker, scrum-half or fly-half to 32-man squad, leaving two players apiece to fight it the starting positions but the Grand Slam-winning coach of 2009 did hint at some player rotation between his Wales selection and the one he must make for the game against France in Paris just six days later, as well as beyond.

“Some of it is position specific anyway,” Kidney said at the weekend regarding the players he would bring into the extended Six Nations squad.

“I had 23-24 guys pencilled in any way and I now know the options. Maybe it’s a bit like getting a little bit of a pecking order and also if you look at the game-time some of the lads have had, the likes of Gavin Duffy and John Muldoon, have had an awful lot of pitch time under their belts so it is probably more prudent to give those guys a bit of a rest over the next week with a view towards recharging the batteries and coming in maybe at a later date and then we will give some of the other guys a go.”

How much of a “go” that entails remains open to debate but Kidney appears set to stay faithful to his core of World Cup players and leave the experimentation to a trio of incoming Six Nations coaches doing their bit for England, France and Italy.

Ireland RBS 6 Nations squad: Forwards: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), S Cronin (Leinster), S Ferris (Ulster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), C Henry (Ulster), S Jennings (Leinster), S O’Brien (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Connell (Munster) — captain, P O’Mahony (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), R Ruddock (Leinster), D Tuohy (Ulster), B Wilkinson (Connacht).

Backs: T Bowe (Ospreys), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), D Hurley (Munster), D Kearney (Leinster), R Kearney (Leinster), F McFadden (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), R O’Gara (Munster), E O’Malley (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), P Wallace (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster).

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