Fringe players get chance to stake claim

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IRELAND SQUAD:NECESSITY BEING the mother of invention, Ireland coach Declan Kidney yesterday unveiled a decidedly inexperienced Test line-up to face Canada in Vancouver this Saturday in the absence of Munster’s Lions and Leinster’s Heineken Cup finalists. With all 15 of the starting line-up from Ireland’s Grand Slam winning side against Wales last March unavailable, Kidney’s team has six uncapped players in the team, writes GERRY THORNLEY

The half dozen uncapped players who will line up for the kick-off are the Ulster midfielders Ian Whitten and Darren Cave, the Connacht outhalf Ian Keatley and his backrow provincial colleague John Muldoon, along with the Munster flanker Niall Ronan and Munster’s Ian Dowling.

There are a further four uncapped players on the bench – Connacht hooker Sean Cronin, the Leinster-bound Harlequins tighthead Mike Ross, Ulster lock Ryan Caldwell and Munster full-back Denis Hurley.

The only survivors from the 22 in Cardiff are a quintet of replacements from that momentous March day, captain Rory Best, Tom Court, Mick O’Driscoll, Peter Stringer and Denis Leamy. Gavin Duffy makes for a trio of Connacht players in the team.

Tony Buckley is the only surviving starter from the Irish team which beat Canada 55-0 in Thomond Park last November – when Best and Stringer were on the bench. Saturday’s encounter also marks a recall for the London Irish captain Bob Casey, who will earn his sixth cap and first since, ironically, the 27-all draw with the Canucks in Markham, Toronto, in 2000.

“Our aim at the start of the season was to build a squad,” said Kidney, “but with so many experienced players available it has been difficult for some players to get experience of their own. This is an ideal tour for them as these are full Test matches, and we will see how the players cope when they are exposed to the full rigours of Test match rugby.”

“These players have been playing and training with their provinces over a number of years and so we are just looking forward to seeing how they go this weekend.”

While the tight five has a relatively grizzled look to it, and the Canadians will be without Paul O’Connell’s Clermont Auvergne sparring partner Jamie Cudmore, the Irish backline is especially callow looking. Outside of the 89-times capped Stringer, who is backed up by Eoin Reddan, the only capped players, Barry Murphy and Duffy, have nine caps between them.

“There is a lot of youth in this backline for Saturday,” admitted Kidney, “but with players like Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy and Ronan O’Gara being around for so long and winning so many caps these players have not been able to get the opportunity to get international experience. Saturday’s game gives these players that chance to put down a marker to challenge for places, and we see this as the start of our preparations for Rugby World Cup 2011 and building a squad for that tournament.”

South Africa coach Peter de Villiers has included six uncapped players in his 23-man training squad for the match against a Namibian Invitation XV in Windhoek on May 29th.

Jean Deysel, Steven Sykes (both Sharks), Wian du Preez (Cheetahs), Morgan Newman (Western Province), Jano Vermaak and Earl Rose (both Lions) are all included in the list, which is made up of 17 Springboks.

Most of the names announced are likely to feature in the final squad to face the Lions in the first Test match in Durban on June 20th. The main absentees from the list are outhalf Ruan Pienaar, who is sidelined with an ankle injury, and centre Jaque Fourie due to his wedding on May 30th.

De Villiers will name his team to play the Lions on June 1st.

Ireland A v Canada

Venue:Thunderbird Stadium, Vancouver

Kick-off:10pm, Saturday

On TV:RTÉ Two

15 – Gavin Duffy (Connacht)

14 – Barry Murphy (Munster)

13 – Darren Cave (Ulster)*

12 – Ian Whitten (Ulster)*

11 – Ian Dowling (Munster)*

10 – Ian Keatley (Connacht)*

9 – Peter Stringer (Munster)

1 – Tom Court (Ulster)

2 – Rory Best (Ulster) capt

3 – Tony Buckley (Munster)

4 – Bob Casey (London Irish)

5 – Mick ODriscoll (Munster)

6 – John Muldoon (Connacht)*

7 – Niall Ronan (Munster)*

8 – Denis Leamy (Munster)

Replacements:

16 – Sean Cronin (Connacht)*

17 – Mike Ross (Harlequins)*

18 – Ryan Caldwell (Ulster)*

19 – Donnacha Ryan (Munster)

20 – Eoin Reddan (London Wasps)

21 – Niall OConnor (Ulster)*

22 – Denis Hurley (Munster)*

* denotes uncapped

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