RUGBY UNION: GATLAND'S CHOP FOR KIWI PAL; Ward the fall guy for World Cup flop.
Ward was one of the few big name casualties when Gatland pruned his Six Nations squad down from 45 to 25 yesterday, ahead of Saturday fortnight's clash with England.
The 29-year-old was joined on the scrapheap by veterans Paddy Johns and Eric Elwood - but almost all of the team which flopped against Argentina have been retained.
Gatland has hardly fulfilled his promise of a new-look Ireland, keeping no fewer than 12 of the side that self-destructed in Lens three months ago.
Matt Mostyn failed to make the initial panel, Reggie Corrigan is in the A squad, but it is Ward who feels the sharp end of an otherwise blunt axe.
A virtual ever-present since Gatland plucked him from Division Three obscurity to face France two years ago, the flanker pays the price for Ulster's poor season.
Johns' chances of becoming Ireland's most capped player have effectively ended with his demotion to the A squad, after 57 caps.
And likewise Elwood, Ireland's top points scorer in the 1990s, has seen his international career cut down just four points shy of the magical 300 mark.
Despite Gatland's insistence he would weed out the World Cup failures and bring sexy rugby to Ireland, the status quo mainly remains.
A fortnight ago the under-fire coach said, at most, he would pick six who lost to Argentina for the match against England.
Yet, yesterday he revealed form players such as Leinster full-back Peter McKenna and Munster bruisers David Wallace and Alan Quinlan do not figure.
Full-back Conor O'Shea, centre Kevin Maggs and skipper Dion O'Cuinneagain, a trio who failed to ignite in the World Cup, are among those fortunate to have stayed.
O'Shea is set for a straight battle with Girvan Dempsey for the full-back shirt, Kevin Maggs faces tough competition from a pair of young Dublin-based midfielders, while O'Cuinneagain is hanging on by a thread after a poor start.
But it may not be all good news for the 16-stone flank forward.
Despite Gatland's refusal to be drawn on the issue, it is understood that the former South African Sevens player is almost certain to lose the captaincy to Keith Wood.
Wood, one of the few Irish players to embellish his reputation during the World Cup, is among 10 Munster stars included.
Mick Galwey, Anthony Foley, Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer are other notable faces from the province which has taken this year's European Cup by storm.
Munster's 33-year-old skipper Galwey is in line for a second coming with Ireland - a full four years after he last played a full 80 minutes in the green shirt.
Foley, who last played against England in 1997, has been so impressive at number eight he could sideline O'Cuinneagain.
Uncapped half-back pairing O'Gara and Stringer have played a pivotal role in Munster's march to the European quarter-finals. O'Gara looks certain to pull the number 10 shirt from David Humphreys, while Stringer could edge ahead of Munster pal Tom Tierney.
Gatland, who needs a big performance in Twickenham to keep the out of dole queue, has named five uncapped players in the 25.
O'Gara and Stringer are joined by Munster front-row duo John Hayes and Frankie Sheehan, while Leinster's powerful centre Shane Horgan edges closer to his debut.
Despite their strong numerical representation, Munster fans will be disappointed that David Wallace and, in particular the impressive Alan Quinlan, must settle for a place in the A squad.
FULL: C. O'Shea (London-Irish), G. Dempsey (Terenure), J. Bishop (London-Irish), S. Horgan (Lansdowne), K. Maggs (Bath), M. Mullins (Young Munster), B. O'Driscoll (Blackrock), D. Humphreys (Dungannon), R. O'Gara (Cork Con), P. Stringer (Cork Con), T. Tierney (Garryowen), P. Clohessy (Young Munster), J. Fitzpatrick (Dungannon), J. Hayes (Shannon), P. Wallace (Saracens), K. Wood (Garryowen), F. Sheahan (Cork Con), M. O'Kelly (St Mary's), R. Casey (Blackrock), J. Davidson (Castres), M. Galwey (Shannon), K. Dawson (London Irish), T. Brennan (St. Mary's), A. Foley (Shannon), D. O'Cuinneagain (Ballymena).
A SQUAD: P. McKenna (St. Mary's), G. Murphy (Leicester), D. Hickie (St. Mary's), T. Howe (Dungannon), J. Kelly (Cork Con), M. Deane (Buccaneers), E. Farrell (Blackrock), E. Elwood (Galwegians), D. Heggarty (Terenure), G. Easterby (Ebbw Vale), M. Horan (Shannon), M. Cahill (Buccaneers), R. Corrigan (Lansdowne), S. Byrne (Blackrock), M. O'Driscoll (Cork Con), E. Miller (Terenure), S. Easterby (LLanelli), D. Wallace (Shannon), A. Quinlan (Shannon), A. Ward (Ballynahinch).
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jan 21, 2000|
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