Ireland A coach Michael Bradley has underlined the importance of front-rowers Marcus Horan and Rory Best ahead of the RBS 6 Six Nations.
Both started Sunday’s Ireland A’s 13-17 defeat to England Saxons, although Best was taken off midway through as a precaution.
And although the opening fixture against Italy may come too soon for the pair, Bradley has backed the duo to play an integral part for the Ireland in their Grand Slam defence.
He said: “It's very important for Irish rugby that both Rory and Marcus are available for Declan and the Six Nations.
“They are not quite there yet and may not be considered for the Italy game, but there are four mighty games after that and the more games they get, the better it is for Irish rugby.”
Bradley also believes Paddy Wallace – who featured started at fly-half – is in the line to get the nod to play centre, ahead of in-form Gordon D'Arcy.
He said: “Paddy went well at 10 although he hasn't played much rugby in that position recently.
“He is a player who has been involved all the time with Ireland and he doesn't even need to force his way back in. He's already there.
“He would have to be omitted. It's up to other players like Gordon or Jonathan Sexton to get ahead of him because it's Paddy's jersey.”