Declan Kidney has wielded the proverbial axe, making five changes in total and dropping Ronan O’ Gara for this Sunday’s Six Nations game versus Scotland at Murrayfield.
Rumours circulating that Kidney was thinking of dropping the Munster legend were confirmed on Wednesday afternoon. The decision to entrust Ulster’s Paddy Jackson, an uncapped 21-year-old, with the number 10 shirt has come as a shock to many Ireland supporters. With Jonathan Sexton ruled out with a hamstring injury, O’ Gara looked like a certainty to start against the Scots. O’ Gara was poor when he came on against the English, and worse for Munster in their loss to Llanelli Scarlets last weekend, but nobody expected he would be dropped for this crucial Six Nations tie.
There will also be a début for another uncapped Ulster man, with Luke Marshall coming in at inside centre, replacing the injured Gordon D’Arcy. It is a big call by Kidney, as Marshall only returned from a five-week injury lay-off during Ulster’s 26-3 win over Zebre last Friday. However, with the experienced Biran O’ Driscoll by his side, Marshall is sure to handle the pressure.
Keith Earls comes in for Simon Zebo on the wing, with Craig Gilroy on the opposite side. Rob Kearney continues at full-back.
Kidney has named two Munster men in the second-row, with Donncha O’ Callaghan lining up alongside Donnacha Ryan.
Tom Court has been named at loose-head prop in what is another surprising decision, as many people expected Kidney to favour Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne. However, Court has been excellent in the scrum for Ulster this year and will form a strong front-row partnership with Rory Best and Mike Ross.
The back-row remains unchanged, and another big performance will be expected from the young Peter O’ Mahony at blindside flanker. Seán O’ Brien will continue in the openside position and Jamie Heaslip will be at number eight.
Ireland face a tough proposition in Scotland on Sunday and Declan Kidney will be hoping his gamble with team selection can pay off.
Ireland team to play Scotland: R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O’Driscoll, L Marshall, K Earls; P Jackson, C Murray. T Court, R Best, M Ross; D O’Callaghan, D Ryan; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip (capt.)
Replacements: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, D Fitzpatrick, D Toner, I Henderson; E Reddan, R O’Gara, L Fitzgerald.