The Ireland coaching team have named the matchday 23 for their opening Rugby World Cup Pool D game against Canada at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm).
Paul O’Connell, who is set for his 14th Rugby World Cup appearance, captains Ireland from the second row where he is partnered by Iain Henderson – one of six tournament debutants in the starting line-up.
Henderson and loosehead prop Jack McGrath are the only changes to the pack that started against Scotland in last March’s Six Nations decider. McGrath joins hooker Rory Best and tighthead Mike Ross in the front row, with Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and the 75-times capped Jamie Heaslip lining out together in the back row.
Robbie Henshaw is unavailable due to ‘a tight hamstring’, so Luke Fitzgerald comes in to partner Jared Payne in the centre for the first time and Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray continue their half-back pairing.
Rob Kearney, who scored two tries against Canada when they visited Thomond Park in 2008, heads up a back-three combination that includes his younger brother Dave on the right wing and Keith Earls on the left.
Sean Cronin, fit-again prop Cian Healy, Nathan White, Donnacha Ryan, Chris Henry, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan and Simon Zebo will all be aiming to have an impact off the bench in Cardiff.
Commenting on Henshaw’s injury and the team selection, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said: “Robbie, right at the end of training on Tuesday, felt his hamstring tighten a little. We got it scanned, there’s a bit of blood there. Okay to walk and jog, but he does feel tightness and it would be a risk to push him. He should be okay for next Sunday (against Romania).
“This time four years ago, Luke was starting at number 12 for Leinster. He’s had a fair bit of game-time for me at 12 and we have confidence in him. He has played at number 13 in the pre-World Cup matches and deserves his opportunity.
“Going back two years, Dave Kearney was exceptional. Andrew Trimble too, but unfortunately he was right in the frame and picked up a second injury and the time-frames were tight. Dave was playing well and deserves an opportunity.
“Iain Henderson has played very, very well but Devin Toner has done a super job for us over last two years, and there is going to be a real contest (for the second row spot).”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Canada, 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D, Millennium Stadium, Saturday, September 19, kick-off 2.30pm):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster)
14. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster)
13. Jared Payne (Ulster)
12. Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster)
11. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster)
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster)
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster)
4. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
5. Paul O’Connell (Young Munster) (capt)
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster)
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster)
16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
18. Nathan White (Connacht)
19. Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
20. Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster)
21. Eoin Reddan (Old Crescent/Leinster)
22. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
23. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster)