By Tadhg Peavoy
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has revealed that although Ulster winger Tommy Bowe trained well at Carton House this week, his exclusion from the Ireland squad is due to a desire to keep his back-three intact for this weekend’s clash with Italy at Aviva Stadium in the RBS 6 Nations.
Bowe, who scored two tries for Ulster last Friday against Newport Gwent Dragons, was expected by many to be included in Schmidt’s 23 for the clash with Italy. However, the former Leinster coach has opted to keep the same wingers in the starting XV: Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble.
Fergus McFadden remains the back three cover on the bench, with Munster's Simon Zebo also missing out out on selection.
Schmidt did allude to the fact that Bowe could yet feature for Ireland in their final Six Nations clash of 2014 against France in Paris on 15 March.
“It’s obviously great to get Tommy back involved. He obviously had then three Test matches last November. He was very quickly up to speed again,” said Schmidt at Carton House today.
“He had no ill-effects from the training with us. He did have a few days off because he tightened a bit after the Ulster game last Friday.
“On the basis of that, we said we wanted to keep him involved with the wider group, and if we feel next Monday that we need Tommy to add more value and to cover someone that might be in doubt then it’s great to have him.
“I thought he trained well and he certainly looked like he was stretching his legs.
"He had no ill-effects afterwards and that’s often the telling point, whether he tightens up afterwards or not.
"He felt that he moved well, and it was great to have him back on the pitch for Ulster, and [to get] the two tries that he got. He's a quality player."
Sexton recovered and fit to start
One of the other main injury concerns in the Ireland squad was regarding outhalf Jonathan Sexton,yet Schmidt revealed that he was very confident Sexton had recovered adequately from a thumb injury to play against Italy.
"It was a sprained thumb, he finished the [England] game," said Schmidt.
"There was bruising, and it's gone. Look, I think one of the things is there's a bit of distance.
"There were some discussions with [Racing coach] Laurent Labit who was not in the country.
"Racing have been pretty good value, they understand Johnny's a pretty important shared resource."
O'Mahony not fit enough to feature
Munster's Peter O'Mahony has been replaced in the squad by Iain Henderson, who will start at openside flanker, with Rhys Ruddock taking Henderson's place on the bench.
Ireland number one Schmidt revealed that O'Mahony was just that little bit off full fitness and that he should be available for selection for the France match the following weekend.
"If this was the last game of the Six Nations we might have risked Peter," said Schmidt.
"We just felt that there was a risk and that it was better to save him for next week.
"At pitchside today, he didn't train. If he trained fully today we probably would have included him, but he wasn't able to train fully, and we decided that caution was required.
"I'd be really confident about Paris next week."
Reddan replaces Boss on the Ireland bench
As well as brining Ruddock in on the bench as cover in the second row, Schmidt has also selected Eoin Reddan as cover at scrumhalf, with his Leinster team-mate Isaac Boss dropping out of the 23, with Reddan's 'freshness' being the main reason for that selection decision.
"Part of it was that Isaac hasn't had a break since the start of the season," said Schmidt.
"It was an opportunity to give him a week where he could refresh a bit.
"Whereas Eoin had a few injuries at the start of the season and was probably the fresher of the two players."
Ireland play Italy at Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Ireland team to play Italy: 15 Rob Kearney (Leinster), 14 Andrew Trimble (Ulster), 13 Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster), 12 Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), 11 Dave Kearney (Leinster), 10 Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro), 9 Conor Murray (Munster), 1 Cian Healy (Leinster), 2 Rory Best (Ulster), 3 Mike Ross (Leinster), 4 Devin Toner (Leinster), 5 Paul O'Connell (Munster), 6 Iain Henderson (Ulster), 7 Chris Henry (Ulster), 8 Jamie Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin (Leinster), 17 Jack McGrath (Leinster), 18 Martin Moore (Leinster), 19 Rhys Ruddock 20Jordi Murphy (Leinster), 21 Eoin Reddan (Leinster) 22 Paddy Jackson (Ulster) 23 Fergus McFadden (Leinster).
Live television coverage of the RBS 6 Nations from 13:30 on Saturday 8 March (Ireland v Italy and Scotland v France) and 14:30 on Sunday 9 March (England v Wales) on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage of Ireland v Italy on Saturday Sport (14:00) on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).