By Brendan Cole
Ronan O’Gara has been left out of the 32-man squad from which the team to face France next week will be selected.
The 35-year-old, who will turn 36 on Thursday, appears to have paid the price for indifferent recent form, including a disastrous cameo in Ireland’s defeat to Scotland.
Paddy Jackson, Ian Madigan and Jonathan Sexton have been named in the squad but there are still doubts about Sexton’s availability as he continues to recover from a Grade Two hamstring tear suffered against England.
The decision is another shift towards the new generation in the squad by Ireland head coach Declan Kidney, who opted to hand Jamie Heaslip the captaincy of the team before the start of the Six Nations.
It means Ireland could play against France with the 21-year-old and once-capped Jackson in the starting berth and the uncapped 23-year-old Madigan on the bench. In total, five of the backline are likely to be under 23.
It also appears to bring O’Gara’s international career to a close, though the player himself has not hinted at retirement since the Rugby World Cup in 2011.
First capped against Scotland in a 44-20 victory in 2000, O’Gara has won 128 caps in a 13-year career with Ireland. An RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam and two-time Heineken Cup winner he has played at three Rugby World Cups and is Ireland's highest ever points scorer with 1,083.
He is also the fourth highest points scorer in the history of International Rugby Union and the second most capped player of all time with 129, including two for the British and Irish Lions. O’Driscoll will draw level with O’Gara if, as expected, he plays against France at the weekend.
Second rows Donnacha Ryan and Mike McCarthy were also named in the Ireland squad. McCarthy returns to the squad having missed the game against Scotland with a knee problem.
Ryan is recovering from a shoulder injury he picked up in the defeat to the Scots. He and Sexton were rated “50/50” to face the French in a medical update three days ago.
Robbie Diack, Tommy O’Donnell and Andrew Trimble have also been picked in the extended squad. Backline players Robbie Henshaw and Daren Cave were not considered due to picking up concussions while playing for their provinces.
A further medical update will be provided later today.
Ireland 32 man Squad: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Robbie Diack, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald, Declan Fitzpatrick, Craig Gilroy, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson, Dave Kearney, Rob Kearney, David Kilcoyne, Ian Madigan, Luke Marshall, MIke McCarthy, Fergus McFadden, Conor Murray, Sean O'Brien, Donncha O'Callaghan, Tommy O'Donnell, Brian O'Driscoll, Peter O'Mahony, Eoin O'Malley, Eoin Reddan, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Devin Toner, Dan Tuohy,