Ireland today announced their 24-man senior squad to compete in the Six Nations, with Luke Fitzgerald a high-profile exclusion from the group.
Fitzgerald, widely tipped to replace injured captain Brian O’Driscoll at outside-centre, will instead link up with Ireland’s reserve Wolfhounds squad, who will meet England Saxons on January 28th.
This is the latest international setback for Fitzgerald, whose club form with Leinster has vastly improved since he missed out on the 2011 World Cup squad.
All in all, the squad is not too dissimilar to that which crashed out at the quarter finals stage in New Zealand, at the hands of their first Six Nations opponents Wales.
Captain O’Driscoll and Dennis Leamy are the only two to appear in that match that don’t feature in this squad, and their influence will be sorely missed.
That said, Ireland remain favourites to avenge their 22-10 defeat to the Welsh, by triumphing over them at the Aviva Stadium at 8/15 in the Six Nations odds.
Wales are 6/4 to score a second consecutive victory, but there task will be made all the more difficult in the absence of their recently retired skipper Alun Wyn Jones, who was colossal in their brave World Cup campaign.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney is expected to give a chance to some debutants going into the Six Nations, including the uncapped Ian Nagle, Paddy McAllister, Andrew Conway, Tiernan O’Halloran, Peter O’Mahoney and Simon Zebo, who he has named among his 24.
Bearing in mind the amount of unknown quantities within the Irish squad, it is no surprise to see them priced at 11/2 to win the tournament, fourth favourites behind France, Wales and England.
Boss Kidney will treat the championship with the utmost respect though, describing it as the start of a very big year for Irish rugby, ahead of a three-Test tour to New Zealand in June.
It could be worth backing Ireland in individual matches in the Six Nations, particularly when playing at the atmospheric Aviva Stadium.