Rarely has there been so much excitement and genuine interest in a Wolfhounds game as tonight’s encounter with the English Saxons at the Sportsground in Galway.
Munster’s James Coughlan will captain a Wolfhounds side that features seven full internationals and, of course, some newcomers to this level of rugby.
Ulster trio Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson and Lewis Stevenson all make their first starts for the Wolfhounds along with captain Coughlan and Munster teammates Tommy O’Donnell and Mike Sherry.
Connacht’s Dave McSharry is another young player to be rewarded with a place at inside-centre for his outstanding
season in a Connacht jersey along with a certain Robbie Henshaw.
Henshaw has been the player on everyone’s lips since a long-term injury to Connacht captain and full-back Gavin Duffy propelled the young man from Athlone into Eric Elwood’s team on a clear night in Glasgow.
Since then he has remained there. Even when Duffy returned, it was on the wing, not at full-back due to Henshaw’s performances and Elwood’s undying belief in him. It’s too easy to forget but Henshaw is only 19 years old. Last April he led his Marist school from Athlone to a Connacht Senior Cup title and now makes his debut for Ireland ‘A’. Some year.
Saxons haven’t come here to make up the numbers, however. England’s ‘A’ team have six full internationals and most of the squad are selected from the in-form teams who are doing well in Europe.
The publics renewed interested in the Wolfhounds stems from Galway getting the nod to host the game and, mostly from the young exciting players mixed in with the seniors.
The chance to view returnee Luke Fitzgearld, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Jackson up close in the small but atmospheric Sportsground is an opportunity not to be missed.
Players on both teams are playing for inclusion in the Six Nations series, however, Ireland’s A team is very strong with an even stronger bench.
Player to watch:
While most of the attention will be on Henshaw, prop David Kilcoyne will be one to watch tonight.
His performances in the RaboDirectPRO 12 and Heineken Cup have been a breath of fresh air in Ireland’s search for tighthead props.
He’s not the finished article but is already a competent understudy for the world class Cian Healy.
(15-9)Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht)*; Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Dave McSharry (UCD/Connacht)*; Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster)
10: Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster)*9: Paul Marshall (Ballymena/Ulster/)*
(1-8)David Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster/), Mike Sherry (Garryowen/Munster)*, Michael Bent (Dublin University/Leinster); Lewis Stevenson (Malone/Ulster)*, Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster); Kevin McLaughlin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster)*, James Coughlan (Dolphin/Munster)* CAPTAIN
(16-23): Damien Varley (Garryowen/Munster/2), Tom Court (Malone/Ulster/29), Declan Fitzpatrick (Dungannon /Ulster/2), Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster/2), Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster/1), Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster/15), Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster)*, Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster/2)
* Denotes first caps.