Ireland duo to make comeback
Pair return to Ireland fold after lengthy absences
By Rachel Griffiths. Last Updated: 19/01/10 3:47pm
Best: Back in Ireland fold
Rory Best and Marcus Horan have both been named in the 44-man Ireland squad for the RBS Six Nations tournament having recently returned to fitness.
"While there were new players who gained vital experience during the Guinness Series, the goal is to keep that experience ticking over with all the players who need international-level game time"
Declan Kidney Quotes of the week
Ulster hooker Best has not appeared this season after undergoing surgery on a neck injury last summer, but has returned to contact training after making a successful recovery.
Munster prop Horan missed out on the autumn internationals after undergoing a routine medical procedure for a minor heart ailment and has not played for his province since October, but featured for 80 minutes in Shannon's AIB All-Ireland league clash with Dolphin on Saturday.
Ireland head coach Declan Kidney has also named nine uncapped men in the squad, including Ulster forwards Dan Tuohy and Declan Fitzpatrick.
Lock forward Tuohy has shown impressive form for the Ravenhill side, particularly in Heineken Cup victories over Stade Francais and Edinburgh, while Fitzpatrick is a more surprising choice after only making two starts for the province this season.
The other uncapped players are Leinster's Fergus McFadden, Kevin McLaughlin, Devin Toner and John Fogarty, Leicester wing Johne Murphy, Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson and powerful Ulster number eight Chris Henry.
From the squad, a 26-man "Ireland A" team will be named on January 26th, for the away fixture against the England Saxons in Bath. Additional players from outside the named group will be added to the second national team.
Kidney, who was unable to include wing Luke Fitzgerald and number eight Denis Leamy in the squad due to injury, admits he gave thought to the 2011 World Cup when making his selections.
"When naming the squad, we had three main considerations, with the most important being the opening game against Italy, followed by the A games and further down the line with the Rugby World Cup," said Kidney.
"Building a squad has always been a priority for us and the work done during the first half of the season means there is a little more experience accumulated in the squad then we had a couple of months ago.
"While there were new players who gained vital experience during the Guinness Series, the goal is to keep that experience ticking over with all the players who need international-level game time."
Kidney is likely to be torn between Ronan O'Gara and rising star Jonathan Sexton for the fly-half role, while competition will also be tight at scrum-half, with Peter Stringer, Isaac Boss, Tomas O'Leary and Eoin Reddan all named in the squad.
Leinster loosehead prop Cian Healy will be looking to cement his position in the side, while veteran Munster forward John Hayes is included in the squad but may be shunned at tighthead in favour of a younger player given he will be 37 when the World Cup arrives.
Crucial players from last season's first Grand Slam victory in 61 years, such as captain Brian O'Driscoll and second-row Paul O'Connell, will no doubt be aiming to guide the team to their second consecutive Slam win, but Kidney insists he is looking no further ahead than their opening game against Italy at Croke Park on February 6.
He added: "The focus is very much on our game against Italy in a fortnight's time and we are preparing for that first challenge."
Backs: I Boss (Ballymena/Ulster), T Bowe (Ospreys), G D'Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), I Dowling(Shannon/Munster), K Earls (Young Munster/Munster), S Horgan (Boyne/Leinster), D Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster), R Kearney (UCD/Leinster), F McFadden (UCD/Leinster)*, J Murphy (Leicester)*, B O'Driscoll (UCD/Leinster), R O'Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), T O'Leary (Dolphin/Munster), E Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), J Sexton (St.Mary's College/Leinster), P Stringer (Shannon/Munster), A Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster), P Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster)
Forwards: R Best (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), T Buckley (Shannon/Munster), T Court (Malone/Ulster), S Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht), L Cullen (Blackrock College/Leinster), S Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster), D Fitzpatrick (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)*, J Flannery (Shannon/Munster), J Fogarty (De La Salle Palmerston/Leinster)*, J Hayes (Bruff/Munster), C Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), J Heaslip (Naas/Leinster), C Henry (Ballymena/Ulster)*, M Horan (Shannon/Munster), S Jennings (St.Mary's College/Leinster), K McLaughlin (UCD/Leinster)*, S O'Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), P O'Connell (Young Munster/Munster), M O'Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster), M Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), D Ryan (Shannon/Munster), D Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)*, D Touhy (Ballymena/Ulster)*, D Wallace (Garryowen/Munster), B Wilkinson (Galwegians/Connacht)*
*denotes uncapped player.