Ireland hope 'lotto' back line will hit the Welsh jackpot in Saturday's Six Nations opener


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The Independent Online

Declan Kidney has compared the vastly contrasting number of international caps shared by Ireland's back line for Saturday's Six Nations opener in Wales to a lottery ticket.

The Ireland coach has selected an exciting pair of wings in Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo, who number four Test appearances between them, along with centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, who together boast nearly 200 caps.

O'Driscoll is one of a quartet of changes to the side that routed Argentina 46-24 in the climax to a mixed November, with Rob Kearney, Rory Best and Sean O'Brien also returning after missing the autumn through injury.

"Look at the back line and the numbers – it's like the lotto," said Kidney. "You've got one, 120, 71 and three in terms of the number of caps. There's a mix of experience.

"The younger guys were buzzing around the camp in November and that has carried on into this month."

Once O'Brien had recovered from hip surgery, the former European player of the year's return to the back row was inevitable, the biggest question being who he would replace.

Ulster openside Chris Henry was superb during the autumn, but it is blindside Peter O'Mahony – who yesterday signed a new contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union to play at Munster until 2015 – who will line up against Wales in Cardiff.

"It was a bit of a call," said Kidney. "In terms of a mix as a starting back row, we felt Peter, Jamie [Heaslip] and Sean would be good for us. Chris's performances did make it a topic of conversation."

For the first time since succeeding Keith Wood as captain in 2004, O'Driscoll will not be leading the team following Kidney's decision to appoint the No 8 Heaslip as skipper.

Inevitably Kidney was asked about Jonathan Sexton's rejection of a new offer from the IRFU in favour of a lucrative move to a French club, thought to be Racing Metro.

Kearney had suggested that Sexton could be the first of several Ireland players to depart for the Top 14, but Kidney side-stepped the issue and denied that the 27-year-old Leinster fly-half had become distracted by the large amount of scrutiny of his decision.

"This is a business. Everyone said it would take 20 years for professionalism to settle in and we're about 15 years into that now," Kidney said. "This was going to happen at some stage. Jonny's grand, as cranky as ever... so he's fine!"