Ireland will take on Canada for the second time in the space of six months this Saturday, with head coach Declan Kidney asking several young and uncapped players to step up to the mark and Ulster hooker Rory Best charged with the captaincy for the first time.
Having named six newcomers to Test rugby in his team to play Canada, Ireland coach Declan Kidney said: “Our aim at the start of this season was to build a squad but with so many experienced players available, it has been difficult for some players to get experiences of their own.
“This is an ideal tour for them as these are full Test matches (against Canada and the USA) and we will see how the players cope when they are exposed to the full rigours of Test match rugby.
“These players have been training and playing with their provinces over a number of years and so we are just looking forward to seeing how they go this weekend.”
There are four debutants in Ireland’s back-line. Munster’s Heineken Cup-winning winger Ian Dowling gets a long-awaited first cap, Darren Cave and Ian Whitten have the chance to test their burgeoning Ulster centre partnership on the international stage and Ian Keatley, after an impressive first season with Connacht, fills the out-half slot.
The average age of the Irish backs unit for Saturday’s game is 25, with late call-up Whitten the youngest at 21 and experienced Munster scrum half Peter Stringer the elder statesman at 31.
Kidney added: “There is a lot of youth in this back-line for Saturday, but with players like Brian (O’Driscoll), Gordon (D’Arcy) and Ronan (O’Gara) being around for so long and winning so many caps, these players have not been able to get the opportunity to get international experience.
“Saturday gives these players that chance to put down a marker to challenge for places and we see this as the start of our preparations for Rugby World Cup 2011 and building a squad for that tournament.”
Tour captain Rory Best will lead a strongly-built pack that has some notable inclusions, two of them debutants.
Loosehead prop Tom Court, who made his debut during the Grand Slam campaign, is poised to make his first start for Ireland, with Tony Buckley filling in for his Munster colleage John Hayes on the tighthead side of the scrum.
Bob Casey, set for his fifth and most recent cap since he played against Canada in 2000, joins Grand Slam winner Mick O’Driscoll in a new second row combination.
The back row also has a fresh look to it with flankers John Muldoon and Niall Ronan making their senior bows alongside number 8 Denis Leamy, who will be winning his 40th cap at Vancouver’s Thunderbird Stadium.
There are also five possible Test debutants on the Irish bench, including hooker Sean Cronin, prop Mike Ross, lock Ryan Caldwell, out-half Niall O’Connor and full-back Denis Hurley.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother Simon Best, who captained Ireland for the 2007 summer tour to Argentina, Rory said: “I am obviously delighted and incredibly proud to be leading the side on Saturday, especially with some of the up-and-coming players in Irish rugby.
“Saturday is a big challenge as Canada will certainly be a physically imposing side and will want to try and test us in all areas of the park, especially up front.
“We have to be able to meet that challenge and put in a performance. We have had a short time together, but I think there is a good blend in the team with players like Peter (Stringer) and Denis (Leamy) along with Mick O’Driscoll and Bob Casey adding experience to some of the younger players which will be important.”
The last time the sides met, at Thomond Park Stadium last November, Ireland emerged victorious on a 55-0 scoreline in what was Kidney’s first match in charge.
Ireland have enjoyed seven wins in the Corkman’s first eight fixtures, scoring 196 points and 21 tries and conceding 98 points and 6 tries.
The Canadians are coached by New Zealander Kieran Crowley and are currently ranked 15th in the world.
They are using their Tests against Ireland and Wales next week as preparation for two crucial 2011 Rugby World Cup qualifier clashes with Eddie O’Sullivan’s US Eagles in July.