Ireland v Italy, Six Nations, February 6
Cullen called up for injured O'Callaghan
February 4, 2010
Ireland's Leo Cullen and Paul O'Connell share a joke in training, Ireland training session, RDS, Dublin, Ireland, February 2, 2010
Cullen shares a joke with second row partner Paul O'Connell during training this week © PA Photos

Leinster lock Leo Cullen has been drafted into the Ireland team for Saturday's Six Nations opener against Italy following a knee injury to Donncha O'Callaghan.

O'Callaghan has been struggling with the injury sustained on Heineken Cup duty against Northampton two weeks ago. The 30-year-old, capped 58 times and a veteran of four Lions Tests, was included in the team on Tuesday only to be ruled out after undergoing a fitness test yesterday.

O'Callaghan is the third player made unavailable for the tournament opener because of injury with Jonathan Sexton and Stephen Ferris suffering from a dead leg and knee problem respectively. Munster forward Donnacha Ryan, who has won three caps, fills Cullen's place among the substitutes

Ireland defence coach Les Kiss expects O'Callaghan to be available for the crucial trip to France on Saturday week. "I think it's about five years since he missed a game so it's tough for him. He's done all he can to be ready it but it's not to be," Kiss told "We're aiming for France obviously. The rehab the medics have done over the last 10 days has been phenomenal - it's come on fantastically. He'll be thereabouts."

While the loss of O'Callaghan is a significant blow, Cullen is a capable deputy. The 32-year-old has 20 caps and led Leinster to Heineken Cup glory last season, though Saturday will be his first Six Nations appearance since March 2003.

Ireland team to play Italy in the Six Nations Championship on Saturday, February 6, at Croke Park (1430):

R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster); L Cullen (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), K McLaughlin (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), P Wallace (Ulster), K Earls (Munster).


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