Confusion reigned during a bewildering Ireland team announcement yesterday that centred on the identity of their stand-off for Saturday’s RBS Six Nations clash with France.
Head coach Declan Kidney gave four different answers across three separate media briefings as to who will fill the No 10 jersey at the Aviva Stadium this weekend. Adding yet another twist to a championship that has fallen into disarray, Kidney confirmed that he may be forced to recall Ronan O’Gara just four days after omitting the country’s most capped player from an extended squad.
Ireland’s medical team ruled out Jonathan Sexton this morning, deciding his hamstring needed a further week of rehabilitation, leaving Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan as the alternatives. However, Jackson sustained a hamstring strain in training on Monday and is a doubt to continue in the position he filled with mixed success on his debut at Murrayfield.
Should Jackson fail to recover – he is expected to train tomorrow – then Madigan will start with Ireland turning to O’Gara in a remarkable comeback for a player whose Test obituary was being written at the weekend.
A vast injury list has transformed a critical Six Nations for Kidney, who is out of contract in the summer, into a fire-fighting exercise, but the mixed messages coming from the coach today were baffling. First he confirmed Jackson would start, but then stated that a decision between who of Jackson and Madigan would be given the nod would be made later.
A few minutes later the call had been put back to Thursday and finally he announced that he knew the identity of his fly-half, but he wanted to speak to the two players first before making it public. The reality is that Jackson will start if fit with the uncapped Madigan on standby should he fail to recover, with the latter scenario resulting in the return of O’Gara.
Ireland were adamant yesterday that O’Gara’s Test career was not over, despite awful substitute displays against England and Scotland that resulted in him being axed from the national set up for the first time in 13 years. The Munster veteran, who turns 36 on Thursday, might be offered a reprieve, however.
“Absolutely not would I mind asking Ronan back, I’d be delighted. There was no fun whatsoever in leaving him out,” Kidney said. “I’d only be too delighted. It wouldn’t be an awkward conversation from my side, absolutely not. I’m sure he’d love to play for Ireland, he’s always loved playing for Ireland and he’d continue to do that.”
There are three confirmed changes to the starting XV defeated by Scotland, among them Fergus McFadden’s selection on the right wing after Craig Gilroy failed to recover from his groin strain. Cian Healy is restored at loosehead prop after completing his suspension for stamping against England on 10 February, replacing Tom Court. Lock Mike McCarthy has recovered from the knee ligament damage sustained in the loss to Stuart Lancaster’s Grand Slam-chasing team, so Donncha O’Callaghan drops down to the bench.
Ireland team: R Kearney (Leinster); F McFadden (Leinster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); AN Other, C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), M McCarthy (Connacht), D Ryan (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt). Subs: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), AN Other, D O’Callaghan (Munster), I Henderson (Ulster), E Reddan (Leinster), AN Other, L Fitzgerald (Leinster).