Jackson and Marshall in line to make their debuts

Ulster's Paddy Jackson: looks poised to make his Irish debut against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Ulster's Paddy Jackson: looks poised to make his Irish debut against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Wed, Feb 20, 2013, 00:00

Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall are seemingly poised to make their Irish debuts against Scotland in Sunday’s game at Murrayfield (kick-off 2pm).

The talented young duo could line up together on foot of Marshall coming through training yesterday after recovering from the dead leg which forced his withdrawal in the first-half of Ulster’s win over Zebre in Ravenhill last Friday, with Jackson at outhalf in the absence of Jonny Sexton and Marshall set to partner the 122-times capped Brian O’Driscoll in the absence of the injured Gordon D’Arcy.

Obliged to change one third of the injury-stricken side which started the defeat to England when he announces the starting XV and replacements to face the Scots at lunchtime today, Declan Kidney was expected to favour experience for what is a win-or-bust game in the context of the championship, but the signals are that he has gone further than anticipated by favouring Jackson for a starting role in addition to Marshall.

Marshall’s anticipated inclusion had seemingly accentuated the need to give Ronan O’Gara his first start since the World Cup quarter-final defeat to Wales, rather than hand another debut from the start to Jackson, but with O’Gara not having made a compelling case with his performance for Munster in Llanelli last Saturday, surprisingly the Irish coach is rumoured to have opted for Jackson.

Nine kicks

Jackson last place-kicked four weeks ago, in the Wolfhounds’ defeat to the Saxons, and last Friday Ruan Pienaar also took the penalties to touch and executed seven of the nine kicks out of hand by the Ulster halves.

Although giving little away at yesterday’s press conference in the Carton House hotel, attack coach Les Kiss admitted this is not ideal from an Irish perspective.

However he added: “But I wouldn’t say Paddy shirks away from them. Playing with Ruan their game plan is slightly different. Last Friday there were some messy moments and he had to manage the game and had couple of moments where he played his part.

“It was his first game back for a few weeks or so, and in the Wolfhounds game he took control of most of those things. The point is taken but he has been there as their first choice all year bar a couple of games so I think he has contributed to where they are, that’s for sure.”

And Jackson has been in the Irish mix all season.

Despite his relevant inexperience, Marshall had been fast-tracked into the Irish set-up from the start of the season and while the win over Fiji was a bloodless coup, he exuded composure in addition to his array of technical skills – be it passing, offloading, kicking or ability to straighten the line.

Kiss says he has also been a fan of Marshall ever since he played in the combined provinces Aviva opener in August 2010.

Some size

“What I like is the way that he has developed in all the facets of his game from that day. Physically he’s got some size about him, he’s robust, he’s a thickish boy, he can carry ball in a target style and he also has a very good pass off both hands. He has very good footwork, which is a very good asset to have in attack and defence . . Also he can kick, so that’s a lot of things you like from your 12.”

Kiss also admitted that “we’ve got a front-row to think about and we’ve got the bench to think about, how we manipulate that.”

Coupled with Rory Best’s remarks last week about building combinations, this heightens the suspicion that David Kilcoyne – having won his four caps off the bench, and played only six minutes alongside Best against Wales – may again be kept in reserve, with Tom Court to be recalled to the starting line-up to reprise his Ulster front-row alliance with Best.

Kiss also cited experience and familiarity with the Irish gameplan and systems as factors in their thinking, further fuelling the feeling that Donncha O’Callaghan and Keith Earls will start in place of the stricken Mike McCarthy and Simon Zebo.

IRELAND (possible v Scotland):Kearney; Gilroy, O’Driscoll, Marshall, Earls; Jackson, Murray; Court, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, Ryan, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip (capt). Replacements: Kilcoyne, Cronin, Fitzpatrick, Toner, Henderson, Reddan, O’Gara, McFadden.

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