Paul O’Connell has been chosen as the new Ireland captain, but vice-captain Jamie Heaslip will lead the team for Joe Schmidt’s first match in charge against Samoa in Saturday’s GUINNESS Series opener at the Aviva Stadium.
Leinster loosehead prop Jack McGrath will earn his first senior cap against the powerful Samoans, while Dave Kearney could also make his senior debut for Ireland if introduced off the replacements bench.
There are six 2013 British & Irish Lions in the starting line-up – Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip and Rory Best – and a further three Lions tourists, Cian Healy, Paul O’Connell and Sean O’Brien, named among the replacements.
With a hip injury ruling out Jonathan Sexton, Paddy Jackson gets the nod to start in the number 10 jersey and Ian Madigan will provide back-up from the bench.
“Ian is a player I know really well and I’ve got a lot of time for. He’s had limited opportunity this year which obviously affects his opportunity to impress,” explained new Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.
“Whereas Paddy’s had had that continuity of game-time (with Ulster), he’s shown a progression through that game-time that he was able to convince us he’s the right man for the job to start with.
“But I like the fact that Ian gives you a change-up off the bench. He’s also versatile, he’s played 12, 13 and played a fair bit at 15 and obviously he’s a 10 first and foremost.
“Just with Johnny, he’s got a little bit of hip flexor tightness. We just felt it was pertinent, with the accumulation of game-time he’s had already….that does start to show signs of wear and tear as it has with his hip flexor, and we just thought it was pertinent to leave him off this weekend.”
Schmidt added: “There’s a risk if we do push Johnny through and train him and play him on Saturday, that we actually worsen his condition and that might not be the most responsible course of action.
“He’s not doubtful (for the Australia game). If we look after him now, we’re absolutely confident that he would come back into the selection mix for Australia.”
Second row O’Connell, whose training time has been limited due to a calf injury, and number 8 Heaslip – Ireland’s captain during last season’s GUINNESS Series and Six Nations, will have important leadership roles in Schmidt’s set-up.
Commenting on his newly-appointed captain and vice-captain, he admitted: “It was a tough decision. We’ve got a very good group who are steering the ship, so to speak, and to have two guys at the helm just allows us to cover our bases.
“Obviously with Paul, he’s had an intermittent two years now where he has had a number of injuries. Whereas Jamie’s incredibly durable, so he’s going to line up for every training and game and it just allows us to cover both bases.
“Jamie was delighted (for Paul). To be honest, we chatted more about what’s happening this weekend than what’s happening going forward. Because I think we’re both reasonably short-term focused.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Samoa, Aviva Stadium, 2013 GUINNESS Series, Saturday, November 9, kick-off 5.45pm):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 46
14. Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) 51
13. Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) 125
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster) 73
11. Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 19
10. Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster) 4
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 19
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) *
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) 67
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster) 31
4. Mike McCarthy (Leinster) 12
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 7
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 16
7. Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster) 8
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (capt) 57
16. Sean Cronin (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 27
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 39
18. Declan Fitzpatrick (Dungannon/Ulster) 5
19. Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) 85
20. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) 27
21. Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster) 50
22. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster) 4
23. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) *
* Denotes uncapped player