Declan Kidney has made one of the biggest calls of his Irish tenure since taking the post in 2008 by naming Paddy Jackson at fly-half in place of Ronan O’Gara for Sunday’s game against Scotland at Murrayfield.
With first choice Jonny Sexton out injured and all-time points scorer O’Gara struggling for form of late, Kidney has chosen Jackson in what will be his first full international cap after featuring for an Ireland XV in the win over Fiji at Thomond Park in November.
Many would argue, myself included, that for experience alone, O’Gara should be chosen ahead of Jackson. Although a distinct lack of form has plagued him of late, Kidney’s selection of an untried Jackson at 10 over a 127-capped O’Gara may indeed be his last decision of note as Ireland coach should it backfire.
As Conor George points out in today’s Irish Independent, this is a risk Kidney does not have to take.
Ronan O’Gara will be the ultimate professional on Sunday. He will take his place on the bench, he will study the game with the deep devotion of a JRR Tolkien fan devouring a newly discovered tome depicting life in Middle Earth.
While that may be a requiem for a dream so to speak, the decision is arguably Kidney’s biggest since selecting Ronan O’Gara over Jonny Sexton in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final.
Kidney may indeed reflect on O’Gara’s recent drop in form, most notably against Llanelli last weekend, but his consistency at 10 for Munster in the Heineken Cup this season cannot be overlooked.
Jackson will be joined in the starting line-up by Ulster teammate Luke Marshall who replaces Gordon D’Arcy to partner Brian O’Driscoll in the centre, in what will also be his senior debut.
Marshall has always been highly rated in the Ulster ranks, but Test rugby is a far cry from the RaboDirect Pro12. It will be interesting to note that Sunday will see him start an international before a Heineken Cup game.
Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Nobody can suggest Declan Kidney has been conservative in his team selection over this Six Nations campaign. Hell, he ditched our greatest ever player as captain before the tournament started. If things are to go awry this Sunday, it may be the beginning of the end for Kidney.
Ireland team to play Scotland at Murrayfield this Sunday – 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.