Ireland without star duo in Six Nations

by Staff Writer

Ireland will get a glimpse of their future when they face Scotland without Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Not since 2001, when they beat Italy 41-22 in Rome, have Ireland started a Six Nations match minus both star centre O'Driscoll and lock O'Connell.

The pair have been the mainstays of the Irish backs and forwards respectively, each earning deserved reputations as world-class players.

But O'Driscoll was ruled out before the Six Nations with a shoulder injury while the pain of a 17-17 draw in last weekend's re-arranged match against France in Paris was compounded when O'Connell, captain in O'Driscoll's absence, suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of the rest of the tournament.

Scrum-half Conor Murray's knee injury also ended his Six Nations and there was more bad news for Ireland coach Declan Kidney when flanker Sean O'Brien, last season's European Player of the Year, was declared unfit to face Scotland because of a skin infection on his foot.

Keith Earls has been getting used to filling O'Driscoll's boots but the pressure will be on Peter O'Mahony and Donnacha Ryan when they deputise for O'Brien and O'Connell respectively.

Scotland - although they won't say so publicly - will hope the upheaval can work to their advantage as they bid to end a sequence of five straight defeats.

Ireland too have been frustrated, albeit in a different way, this tournament.

They may have been tipped for the title by many pundits but a failure to hang onto leads in a tournament opening defeat by now Grand Slam-chasing Wales and against France, where they were 17-6 up at half-time, has cost Ireland dear.

Now, with a St Partrick's Day clash against England at Twickenham rounding off their Championship, the best Ireland can hope for is third place.

And that's just not good enough for Ireland wing Tommy Bowe, whose two first-half tries against France took his tally for this season's Six Nations to five in three matches.

"We're not far off but we should be up there competing for a Grand Slam," the 28-year-old Bowe said.

"We had a good lead against Wales and France but let them go. We went to sleep at times during the second half against both of them. We haven't put in a full 80-minute performance."

Scotland may have won plaudits for their attacking play in a 23-17 defeat by World Cup finalists France last time out but another defeat is bound to intensify the pressure on coach Andy Robinson.

The former England flanker and coach has won just two of his 13 Six Nations matches in charge of Scotland.

But a fresh reverse is set to leave Scotland with the unpalatable prospect of yet another wooden spoon decider against fellow perennial strugglers Italy in Rome next weekend.

Nick de Luca returns in place of Rory Lamont, who broke his leg against France.

Rory Best will captain the hosts on Saturday and by playing his 58th Test the Ulsterman will equal Keith Wood's record as Ireland's most capped hooker.

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