/ Rugby

Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy set for New Zealand clash

Updated: Friday, 22 Nov 2013 13:36 | Comments

Brian O'Driscoll (l) and Gordon D'Arcy expected to team up at centre
Brian O'Driscoll (l) and Gordon D'Arcy expected to team up at centre

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Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy look set to resume their centre partnership when Joe Schmidt names his team for Sunday's clash with New Zealand today (Live on RTÉ.ie/sport from 1.25pm).

The decision to release Ulster's Luke Marshall and Darren Cave for RaboDirect PRO12 action points to D'Arcy starting in the number 12 jersey alongside O'Driscoll.

O'Driscoll is on course to shake off a calf niggle in time for the climax to the Guinness Series in his final appearance against New Zealand before retiring at the end of the season.

Jonathan Sexton has been struggling with a hamstring injury incurred in the 32-15 defeat to Australia and has until late this morning to prove his fitness.

Should he fail to recover, Paddy Jackson is favourite to start after directing the autumn-opening 40-9 win against Samoa.

Full-back Rob Kearney resumed training on Tuesday and is expected to win his battle with a rib problem.


"Kieran [Read] is pretty much the full package" - Jamie Heaslip 

Other changes are also expected after last week’s disappointing display, though injuries mean Schmidt has limited options in several positions with the likes of Chris Henry, Donnacha Ryan, Iain Henderson, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy and Keith Earls either injured or, in the cases of Gilroy and Henderson, only making a return to provincial action this weekend.

At scrum-half, Conor Murray could earn a recall in place of Eoin Reddan with his physical presence, cover tackling and good performances against New Zealand two summers ago in his favour.

Ireland may also make changes in the pack after unexpectedly struggling in the scrum throughout the clash with Australia and conceding a try to a 10-man lineout maul in the second half.

Lack of alternatives could mean Schmidt will opt to give front-row trio Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Rory Best a chance at redemption despite the issues they experienced last week, though Ulster tighthead Declan Fitzpatrick could come back into the reckoning for a place on the bench after dropping out of the squad for the Australia game.

Ireland could also make a change in the second row in a bid to add power, with the hard-tackling and mobile Mike McCarthy, possibly replacing of Devin Toner to start alongside captain Paul O’Connell.

Donncha O’Callaghan is also with the squad this week and come into the reckoning.

Dan Tuohy, a veteran of Ireland’s near miss in the second Test against New Zealand on the 2012 tour, has also been released to play for Ulster.

New Zealand are chasing the end of a perfect season by posting a 14th successive victory to become the first Test side to finish a calendar year with an immaculate record

Spearheading Sunday's assault on Dublin will be number eight Kieran Read, favourite for the International Rugby Board player of the year award.

Read has been the sport's outstanding player in any position this year and Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip regards him as exceptional.

"We were talking to Australia last weekend at the dinner and they said 'just mark Kieran Read'. That is how much of an influence he can have," Heaslip said.

"In my book, I would put him and Sergio Parisse as the best eights out there and Kieran is showing some incredible form right now.

"Kieran's pretty much the full package. He's got great distribution and carrying skills. He's a serious athlete.

"He has been playing some fantastic rugby over the last year and a half, two years. He sets very high standards for himself."

Live coverage of Irish coach Joe Schmidt's team announcement from 13:25 on Friday 22 November on RTÉ News Now and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).

Live television coverage of Ireland v New Zealand from 13:00 on Sunday 24 November on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage on Sunday Sport from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).

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