We used to look at the decision in 2008 to run with Denis Hurley and Tomas O’Leary ahead of Shaun Payne and Peter Stringer for Munster as the high water mark for Declan Kidney’s capacity to surprise. And then he goes and leaves Ronan O’Gara on the bench for Sunday’s trip to Murrayfield.
While that’s the call that will dominate Irish media for the next few days there are another couple of curve balls in the coach’s selection.
Despite being left out in the cold in November, and for the first two rounds of the Championship, Tom Court is brought back to start at loose head. Which leaves Dave Kilcoyne wondering why he’s not in for the suspended Cian Healy, particularly with Scotland’s first choice Euan Murray not available.
And Devin Toner is also back in the frame with the possibility of his first Six Nations cap, having got three runs back in November 2010. Chances are the only way he’ll be coming on though is if Ulster’s Iain Henderson is coming off having been sprung from the bench.
All in all then, a good day for Ulster. Luke Marshall will make his debut alongside Jackson, giving the province a whopping five starters, plus two on the bench.
Happy days for Luke Fitzgerald as well. He’s had four successful runs for Leinster since recovering from the neck injury that threatened his career, and now suddenly finds himself back in a match day Ireland squad for the first time since the World Cup warm up against France in 2011.
The news for the next few days however will be evenly split between Paddy Jackson and Ronan O’Gara. The only time Jackson will have experienced anything like this attention was in the Heineken Cup final last May when he came close to a meltdown. And he didn’t have to deal with the responsibility of goal kicking, a load carried by Ruan Pienaar.
Interestingly the Springbok did those duties last weekend as well, against Zebre, when we wondered would Jackson have got his eye in seeing as he was sure to be involved in Edinburgh on Sunday. We expected that to be off the bench, if at all. And so did O’Gara, no doubt.
Then Kidney pulled this stunner. I understand completely where he’s coming from, in that O’Gara is a mile off the pace and at this stage in his career may never catch up again. His peak was 2006-2008 when he was the pivotal figure in Munster’s European dominance.
My choice to replace him however would have been Ian Madigan, given his form and confidence, and the fact that he is first choice kicker in the absence of Jonny Sexton. Clearly that was not going to happen, given that he was called in this week only as a bag holder.
For Jackson however the jump from being 10 for Ulster, with Pienaar taking the shots, to 10 for Ireland with a debutant outside him, and the goal-kicking responsibility on his shoulders, is cliff-edge stuff. For the coach as well as the player.
Ireland: Kearney; Gilroy, O’Driscoll, Marshall, Earls; Jackson, Murray; Court, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, Ryan, O’Mahony, Heaslip, O’Brien. Reps: Cronin, Kilcoyne, Fitzpatrick, Toner, Henderson; Reddan, O’Gara, Fitzgerald