Kidney buoyed by Heineken Cup form

Declan Kidney has said that Ireland will enter the Six Nations buoyed by the success of their provinces in the Heineken Cup.

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Leinster, Munster and Ulster each enter the final round of group fixtures at the summit of their pool with only Ulster yet to guarantee their place in the quarter-finals. Their form has placed Irish rugby on a high that Kidney hopes will be preserved throughout the Six Nations.

"There have been some strong performances by players with the provinces going really well," said the head coach. "It always gives the squad a good boost when we have teams with players playing well in Europe before we step back up into the international scene."

Kidney has omitted Luke Fitzgerald from his 24-man senior squad for the tournament.

Fitzgerald, a big-name absentee from last year's World Cup, has instead been included in the second-string Wolfhounds squad to face England Saxons on January 28.

The Leinster winger has been rejuvenated since his failure to win a spot among the 30 that departed for New Zealand and had been viewed as a contender to replace Brian O'Driscoll at outside centre.

A combination of a glute problem and minor neck strain forced him to sit out the Heineken Cup victory at Glasgow last weekend, but he is expected to be fit to face Montpellier on Saturday.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney insists those picked for the Wolfhounds remain in Six Nations contention, but Fitzgerald now seems unlikely to be involved in the opener against Wales on February 5.

"The Wolfhounds game gives myself and the other coaches one final chance to give games to players to see possible options before we settle on our match day 22 for the opening game," said Kidney.

"The game us the opportunity to have a closer look in training at some of the younger players rather than bringing in more experienced players, who are very much still in the frame for selection."

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