After 128 caps and 13 seasons of Test rugby Ronan O'Gara learned he is not even Ireland's second-ranked fly-half.
With Jonny Sexton injured, the Ireland coach, Declan Kidney, has chosen to give Paddy Jackson his first start in Edinburgh on Sunday, playing him alongside another Ulster debutant, Luke Marshall.
O'Gara, 36 next month, has won his last 11 caps coming off the bench but, with Irish hopes of a grand slam gone, Kidney looks to have decided it is time to move on. On Tuesday his defence coach, Les Kiss, did a fine job of praising O'Gara's defensive qualities, but that seems to have been nothing other than kidology. Either that or that or the Jackson decision was taken at the last minute. When O'Gara was elbowed aside for Sexton in the run-up to the 2011 World Cup, he replied with a few feisty performances but there were subsequent references – starting in New Zealand – to possible retirement. It will be interesting to see how the Munster man responds to being replaced by a 21-year-old whose experience amounts to a game for the Wolfhounds – Ireland's second team – against England last month and playing fly-half in the non-cap international against Fiji in November.
O'Gara's case was not helped by his performance after coming on for Sexton against England in Dublin a fortnight ago, when he was only average with the boot and was twice caught in possession. A good performance in Munster's Pro 12 game at Scarlets last weekend might have helped but O'Gara missed a couple of kickable penalties and Munster went down 18-10. The double Heineken champions are out of the play-off spot in sixth place , with their play and O'Gara's form seemingly struggling to adopt to the broader game plan introduced by Rob Penney and Simon Mannix.
The chance of a fourth consecutive Lions tour looks beyond O'Gara and a new contract for next season at Munster still has to be sorted out. The elevation of Jackson seems to have come on the back of Ulster's Heineken Cup performances, especially as it is alongside Marshall, who replaces Gordon D'Arcy at inside-centre.
"Paddy's inclusion was a challenge, given the stature of Ronan O'Gara, but I think Paddy deserves a go in this one," said Kidney. "It was a very difficult decision to leave Ronan out ... it was right up there. But that's a compliment to Paddy. There were always going to be five changes to the side that played against England. Luke was with us all through November and accomplished himself very well."
The good thing for Ireland is that Brian O'Driscoll has recovered from his ankle injury so, with Conor Murray at scrum-half, there is experience either side of the Ulster debutants and they will need it with Scotland looking increasingly settled under their interim coaches, Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan. The side they announced included only one change and that was for religious reasons – the Edinburgh prop Geoff Cross replacing the Worcester tighthead, Euan Murray, who does not play on Sundays.
The other Ireland changes are Tom Court for Cian Healy while the tighthead serves his ban for stamping, Keith Earls on the left wing for Simon Zebo, while Donncha O'Callaghan starts in the second row alongside Donnacha Ryan in place of Mike McCarthy. Scotland shuffle their bench, from where a former captain, Al Kellock, has the chance to reach his 50th cap while Johnson has recalled Dougie Hall as replacement hooker.
While Ireland were losing to England in Dublin, Scotland were scoring four tries against Italy – their first quadruple for a decade. There was also a huge improvement over their performance at Twickenham in the opening game of the Six Nations. Nevertheless Johnson is far from satisfied: "We have to improve on our last game and that's been our theme at training all week," said the Australian. "I make no apology for saying again that we have to step up our work in the contact area. But we've kept changes to a minimum and are saying to the players: 'You've won one game. Now go out and show us you can win another.'"
Kearney (Leinster); Gilroy (Ulster), O'Driscoll(Leinster), Marshall(Ulster), Earls(Munster); Jackson(Ulster), Murray(Munster); Court, Best(both Ulster), Ross(Leinster), O'Callaghan, Ryan, O'Mahony(all Munster), O'Brien(Leinster), Heaslip(Leinster, capt). Replacements Cronin(Leinster), Kilcoyne(Munster), Fitzpatrick(Ulster), Toner(Leinster), Henderson (Ulster), Reddan(Leinster), O'Gara(Munster), Fitzgerald (Leinster).
Hogg (Glasgow); Maitland, Lamont (both Glasgow), Scott, Visser (both Edinburgh); Jackson (Glasgow), Laidlaw (Edinburgh); Grant (Glasgow), Ford, Cross (both Edinburgh), Gray (Sale), Hamilton (Gloucester), Harley (Glasgow), Brown (Saracens, capt), Beattie (Montpellier). Replacements Hall, Welsh, Low, Kellock, Pyrgos, Weir (all Glasgow), Evans (Castres), Denton (Edinburgh)
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