The Ireland coach Declan Kidney will give Kevin McLaughlin his international debut at home to Italy on Saturday, thrusting the Leinster flanker into the first game of the Six Nations champions' title defence. Without the injured Stephen Ferris, a key performer in last year's first Grand Slam since 1948, Kidney surprisingly gave the 24-year-old McLaughlin the nod ahead of fellow Leinster backrower Sean O'Brien.
"I wouldn't say I'm shocked. I felt like I had a chance coming into this week," McLaughlin said. "Obviously, it's a big step up for me this weekend but I'm going to treat it like any other game and just get on with it and play my game on Saturday." The anticipated tussle between Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O'Gara for Ireland's No 10 shirt was put on hold for a week after Kidney said Leinster's Sexton had pulled up in training on Monday with a dead leg. Gordon D'Arcy edged out Paddy Wallace to resume his centre partnership with captain Brian O'Driscoll, while Ulsterman Andrew Trimble was chosen ahead of Keith Earls to fill in for the injured Luke Fitzgerald on the left wing. "I think in trying to build a squad you try not to get to the place where it's a preferred 15 in the game of rugby because anybody at any stage can pick up a bang or a knock," Kidney said. "If you stop and wait for guys to get back, you'll never move forward."
McLaughlin's selection continues a remarkable few months for the flanker whose first three years with the Heineken Cup champions were blighted by a series of shoulder and knee injuries. He managed only four starts for the province before this season but broke through following the departure of Australia's Rocky Elsom. * With agencies