by Barry Coughlan
WARREN GATLAND is hoping the clash between the Rest of Ireland and Munster at Thomond Park tomorrow week will be a no-holds-barred contest to boost chances of a big Irish representation on the Lions tour to Australia.
Irish coach Gatland believes some “50 50” candidates could lose out because Ireland’s international programme has been curtailed, but he feels there are some who could make up ground in the coming weeks.
“This match will be important for a number of people and might be their last chance to impress. The Munster players have at least another chance because of their participation in the Heineken European Cup semi final.”
The Rest of Ireland team was announced yesterday and contains six players who have already been announced in the preliminary Lions squad. Gatland was unable to include people like Keith Wood and Rob Henderson because of their involvement in club rugby in England.
But for people like Denis Hickie, Brian O’Driscoll and Malcolm O’Kelly, one more good performance should be enough to see them included in the Lions party.
For the likes of Eric Miller, Shane Horgan and Tyrone Howe, it is also a chance to impress.
Gatland knows now he won’t have any of his players available for training again until the week leading up to a June 2 international against Romania.
The Munster team has yet to be named but, barring injury, it will certainly include Peter Clohessy, John Hayes, Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer, all of whom are also in that preliminary Lions squad.
That allows Lions coach Graham Henry and tour manager Donal Lenihan an opportunity to see 10 of the 14 Irish candidates in action on the one night. Of the other four, it is not a priority to see Keith Wood, while Jeremy Davidson (Castres), Kieron Dawson (London Irish) and David Wallace (Garryowen), who is injured, will have to take their chances on the basis of other performances.
Meanwhile, the IRB announced two major law changes to the game affecting mauls and line-outs.
From June 1 a player supported in the line-out must be lowered to the ground after the ball has been won.
They have also ruled that when a maul is stopped from going forward it may be restarted once, providing this happens within five seconds.
The IRB’s maul law amendment, also applicable form June 1, is designed to encourage the commitment of more defenders to the maul, and creating more space in midfield.
French coach Bernard Laporte has made sweeping changes for Saturday’s Six Nation game against England at Twickenham.
Four of the team beaten 43-35 by Wales have been dropped, while two others centre Sebastien Bonetti and prop Christian Califano miss out through injury.
Skipper Fabien Pelous moves from lock to number eight, allowing veteran Abdel Benazzi a second-row recall.
Players axed are centre Thomas Lombard, lock David Auradou, flanker Christophe Moni and number eight Christophe Juillet.
REST OF IRELAND (v Munster, Thomond Park Friday, April 13, 5 pm): G Dempsey (Terenure College), D Hickie (St. Mary’s), B O’Driscoll (Blackrock); S Horgan (Lansdowne); T Howe (Ballymena), D Humphreys (Dungannon, capt), B O’Meara (Cork Constitution); J Fitzpatrick (Dungannon); S Byrne (Blackrock); S Best (Belfast Harlequins); G Longwell (Ballymena); M O’Kelly (St. Mary’s); E Miller (Terenure), A Ward (Ballynahinch), V Costello (St. Mary’s).
Replacements: P Smyth (St. Mary’s), M Cahill (Buccaneers), B Casey (Blackrock), T McWhirter (Dungannon), G Easterby (Llanelli), E Elwood (Galwegians), J Bell (Dungannon).
Keith Wood (Harlequins), Jeremy Davidson (Castres), Kieron Dawson (London Irish), Rob Henderson (Wasps), Geordan Murphy (Leicester), Matt Mostyn (Newport), and Paul Burke (Harlequins) were not considered due to club commitments. Kevin Maggs (Bath) and Leo Cullen (Blackrock) are injured.