The Ireland team to play New Zealand in the final game of the GUINNESS Series at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 2pm) has been named.
Brian O’Driscoll, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney have been included in the Ireland starting line-up to face the All Blacks, having trained with the squad today.
Head coach Joe Schmidt confirmed: “All three took full part in training today, Rob trained well on Wednesday, they have had the luxury of the conditioning we have done through the last three weeks, so it was just a case of getting them on the training pitch together and confirming they were fit to play.
“I think Paddy (Jackson) did really well against Samoa so we would have had confidence in Paddy, we have confidence in Johnny obviously because of the leadership and experience he has and that tips the balance in a week that wasn’t perfect for preparation at all.
“If we get an injury to someone like Gordon D’Arcy or get one elsewhere, having Ian (Madigan) on the bench just gives more flexibility where with Paddy, he plays 10 and doesn’t play other positions.”
The selected pack remains unchanged from last weekend’s clash with Australia and will feature Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony in the back row.
Team captain Paul O’Connell will be partnered by Devin Toner in the second row and Cian Healy, hooker Rory Best and Mike Ross pack down in the front row.
Conor Murray comes in for Eoin Reddan at scrum half and Dave Kearney, a two-try debutant against Samoa, earns his second cap on the wing in place of the injured Fergus McFadden.
D’Arcy wins his 75th cap for Ireland and will partner O’Driscoll in the Irish midfield for a record 52nd time. It will be O’Driscoll’s 128th appearance which sees him draw level with Ireland’s most-capped player, retired out-half Ronan O’Gara.
Schmidt added: “I do believe that in any two-horse race there are no certainties and I think winning will take an exceptional performance.
“The All Blacks have proven that as well as being a class side, when they have come under pressure they have overcome it, it was highly evident especially in the Rugby Championship against South Africa.
“You’re down to 14 men and down by six points…so to score two converted tries and win by eight points, that’s exceptional and it’s a clear sign of the self belief they have and we have to have that because you can’t win otherwise.”
Jordan Coghlan, Ian Nagle, Billy Dardis, Steve Crosbie and Dan Leavy were brought in to train with the Irish squad at Carton House today to allow senior players to return to their provinces.
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v New Zealand, Aviva Stadium, 2013 GUINNESS Series, Sunday, November 24, kick-off 2pm):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 48
14. Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) 53
13. Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) 127
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster) 74
11. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) 1
10. Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92) 37
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 21
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 41
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) 69
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster) 33
4. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 9
5. Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) 87 (capt)
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 18
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) 29
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) 59
16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 29
17. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 2
18. Declan Fitzpatrick (Dungannon/Ulster) 6
19. Mike McCarthy (Leinster) 14
20. Kevin McLaughlin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 7
21. Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster) 17
22. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster) 6
23. Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster) 26