Ireland pick squad for NZ tour
Dublin - Ireland head coach Declan Kidney on Monday named three uncapped players in a 29-man squad for his side's upcoming three-Test series against world champions New Zealand.
Ulster prop Declan Fitzpatrick and hooker Mike Sherry of Munster were included up front while Sherry's team-mate wing Simon Zebo was in the backs, alongside Ulster centre Darren Cave, who won two caps on Ireland's north America tour three years ago.
Kidney left four places in the squad vacant - three forwards and one back - as he waits to hear whether several players will recover sufficiently from injury after a gruelling season.
They include a second row slot for Munster lock Paul O'Connell, who is battling back to fitness after a knee operation that ruled him out of the squad to face the Barbarians on May 29.
Leinster centre Brian O'Driscoll makes a return to the squad for the first time since the World Cup and will start as captain for the Tests on June 9, 16 and 23.
He returned from injury on Saturday to lead the Irish province to its third European Cup triumph in the space of four seasons, beating Ulster 42-14 at Twickenham in an all-Irish final.
Kidney told a news conference in Dublin that it was a "fantastic opportunity" for Fitzpatrick, Sherry and Zebo to play against New Zealand and they had made the side on merit.
He described the upcoming tour as "like three Heineken Cup finals" and that Ireland had everything to gain from the trip.
"We're eighth (in the world rankings). The gap between Ireland and New Zealand is there and there's nothing to lose... We must perform well," he told reporters.
Kidney also said it was important to have the strongest squad possible, which was why he had not named a full squad.
"You don't experiment in matches against New Zealand. It's akin to experimenting in Heineken play-off matches. You need to go for it," he added.
Ireland squad to tour New Zealand (* denotes uncapped player)
Rory Best (Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster) Stephen Ferris (Ulster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster)*, Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Mike Sherry (Munster)*, Dan Tuohy (Ulster), A.N. Other, A.N. Other, A.N. Other
Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster) Captain, Ronan O'Gara (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster)*, A.N. Other