Uncapped Ulster duo picked to start for Ireland
Declan Kidney has selected uncapped Ulster duo Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall to start in an Ireland side that shows five changes for Sunday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Scotland.
The Ireland coach has also picked Tom Court, Donncha O’Callaghan and Keith Earls in a side which shows five changes from the one which lost 12-6 to England at Aviva Stadium in the last round.
Jackson and Court come straight into the starting XV having not featured in match squads to date, leapfrogging Munster duo Ronan O’Gara and David Kilcoyne.
The five changes, three in the backline and two in the pack, are all because of injury or suspension.
Centre Gordon D’Arcy and wing Simon Zebo are out for the duration of the tournament with foot injuries. There are also doubts about the availability of out-half Jonathan Sexton, who suffered a hamstring tear against England, and second row Mike McCarthy, who damaged knee ligaments, for the final two games.
Loosehead prop Cian Healy is suspended until the final match against Italy.
The changes mean that three of Ireland’s starting XV will be Ulster players yet to reach their 22nd birthday, with Craig Gilroy retaining his place on the wing.
Jackson, who captained Ireland in last year’s Six Nations Under-20s campaign, has been picked ahead of 35-year-old O’Gara despite the Munster man’s 127 international caps and provincial partnership with starting scrum-half Conor Murray.
O’Gara appears to have paid the price for a below-par performance against England, and for the fact that his form for Munster has not convinced this year, culminating in a poor display that saw him miss straightforward kicks at goal in Munster’s defeat to Llanelli at the weekend.
Leinster back Ian Madigan, who was called up to the squad on Monday, has not been included in the match-day 23 with O’Gara retaining his role on the bench.
Marhshall replaces D’Arcy, slotting in at inside centre alongside Brian O’Driscoll, having impressed in Ireland’s convincing win over Fiji in a non-cap international in November. Marshall only returned from a five-week injury lay-off in Ulster’s win over Zebre at the weekend.
Keith Earls starts on the left wing after an effective attacking performance off the bench against England, with full-back Rob Kearney completing the refashioned backline.
In the pack, O’Callaghan has been selected in place of McCarthy and will play alongside provincial colleague Donnacha Ryan.
Court has been in excellent form for Ulster, most notably as a scrummager and energetic defender of the ruck fringe. His provincial team-mate Rory Best continues at hooker, with Leinster’s Mike Ross again set to start at tighthead.
The back-row is unchanged with captain Jamie Heaslip at number eight, Sean O’Brien at openside and Peter O’Mahony at blindside. Chris Henry, who might have challenged for a starting place, is unavailable due to injury.
The reshuffled starting line-up means the bench is also changed.
Sean Cronin, Kilcoyne and Declan Fitzpatrick are the front-row substitutes. Devin Toner is the second row sub, while Iain Henderson will provide cover for the second-row and back-row. O’Gara, Eoin Reddan and Luke Fitzgerald are the backline subs.
Ireland team to face Scotland at Murrayfield, Edinburgh, on Sunday, KO 2pm:
R Kearney (Leinster); C Gilroy (Ulster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); P Jackson (Ulster), C Murray (Munster); T Court (Ulster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), D Ryan (Munster), P O'Mahony (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), D Toner (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O'Gara (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster).