The Ireland coaching staff have named the team to take on Argentina in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 1pm).
There are three changes to the side that overcame France 24-9 last Sunday, with injury ruling both Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony out of the tournament and Sean O’Brien missing the match through suspension.
In O’Connell’s absence, Jamie Heaslip will assume the captaincy on the occasion of his 80th Ireland appearance. The Naas man is joined in the back row by Jordi Murphy, who comes in for his second World Cup start, and Chris Henry who replaces O’Brien at openside flanker.
Devin Toner and Iain Henderson are paired together in the second row, while last week’s front row of Cian Healy, Mike Ross and Rory Best are retained as they extend their professional era and northern Hemisphere record to 31 starts.
Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton remain at half-back with centres Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls lining out together for the third game on the trot. The back-three is made up of Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Dave Kearney, completing a team that boasts 684 Test caps.
Rhys Ruddock, an injury call-up for O’Mahony this week, could make his World Cup debut off the bench. The other replacements are Richardt Strauss, Jack McGrath, Nathan White, Donnacha Ryan, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald.
Speaking about the fitness of Sexton, who has been nursing a groin injury this week, head coach Joe Schmidt said: “We’ve allowed him to build his way back into the week. He had a fairly light start to the week, he trained fully at the Millennium Stadium this morning and we believe that he’s ready to go.
“He hasn’t done as much kicking as he would have, but that wouldn’t be sensible either. We’ve allowed him to build his way in to the week so that by the end of the seven days he can be ready to go.
“If he’s fit, he’s fit. Before we played France in the Six Nations a lot of people asked questions and he was fine. We don’t tend to take too many risks with players. We have copped a few injuries, but we’ve managed people through the week.
“We have a fantastic medical crew, a super strength & conditioning and rehabilitation group, and Johnny himself is ready to go.”
Asked about the make-up of the back row with the versatile Murphy slotting in at blindside, the New Zealander added: “Jordi has started Six Nations matches for us, he’s played six before. He’s played across the back row and we felt he was best positioned having rehearsed running in that position more often than anyone else.
“We did think about putting Iain Henderson in there and putting Donnacha Ryan in, and that may still happen during the game. We just felt Paul (O’Connell) is an unbelievably good scrummager for us. Iain is an incredibly strong young man so we felt that added a bit more ballast to our tight five because our back five have lost a lot of experience.
“There’s a few guys, to be honest, who are carrying bumps and bruises. It’s been a light training week, but we’ve got 48 hours more to freshen and hopefully be ready to go by 1pm on Sunday.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Argentina, 2015 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Sunday, October 18, kick-off 1pm):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster)
14. Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
13. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster)
12. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht)
11. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster)
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster)
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster)
4. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)
5. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
6. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster)
7. Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (capt)
16. Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster)
17. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
18. Nathan White (Connacht)
19. Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
20. Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
21. Eoin Reddan (Old Crescent/Leinster)
22. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
23. Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster)