The Ireland coaches have named the team that will take on South Africa in the first Test of the summer tour at Newlands Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 5pm local time/4pm Irish time).
Hooker Rory Best captains the side and is joined in the front row by Jack McGrath and Mike Ross, who will win his 60th Ireland cap this weekend – 58 of them as a starter.
Devin Toner and Iain Henderson pack down together in the second row, with Henderson set for his first international appearance since last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina.
Openside flanker Jordi Murphy is also back in the starting line-up, featuring for the first time since the Argentina game, while CJ Stander will be stationed on the blindside against the country of his birth and Jamie Heaslip wins cap number 86 at number 8.
Conor Murray and Paddy Jackson are the half-backs, as Jackson replaces injured out-half Jonathan Sexton for only his second Test start in two-and-a-half years. The Ulsterman’s last start came in Cardiff in last August’s Rugby World Cup warm-up win over Wales.
Jackson’s provincial colleague Luke Marshall, who ends his two-year absence from the international scene, will line out at inside centre, combining with Connacht PRO12 winner Robbie Henshaw.
Jared Payne makes the move from centre to full-back for his first start in the number 15 jersey, with wingers Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls joining him in a back-three that boasts 127 caps.
Three members of Connacht’s league-winning side – Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and Kieran Marmion – are included on the bench along with Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Rhys Ruddock, Ian Madigan and Ulster flyer Craig Gilroy, who is aiming for his first Test appearance since November 2014.
Speaking about the selections at full-back and out-half, head coach Joe Schmidt said: “We thought about two other options at full-back – Tiernan O’Halloran, who had a very good end of the season, and we thought about Robbie (Henshaw) going back there but, to be honest, those two were a little bit jaded last week.
“Tiernan came in a little bit later and Robbie was pretty fatigued, he’s had the biggest mileage during the season of any of the Irish players and we just felt it was a good opportunity last week to give him a little bit of time to catch his breath.
“Therefore, it was a little bit easier for Jared to run in, he was a little bit fresher but we feel reasonably confident with any of those three. We just felt that Jared, with his experience and freshness, was the reasoning for the decision we made.
“Paddy Jackson has slotted in really well (at out-half). I think that he’s bided his time, he’s been in camp a lot when Johnny’s been in camp so he’s seen Johnny kind of dictating the game.
“Johnny has been the conductor of the orchestra and we’re confident that Paddy can step up and do a similar job. I think he’s got big boots to fill, but I think his feet will slide in quite nicely.”
All three South Africa v Ireland Tests will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 1 HD this month. Visit irishrugby.ie and the IRFU’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube pages for all the latest news, images and videos from the tour of South Africa.
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v South Africa, 2016 Summer Tour First Test, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town, Saturday, June 11, kick-off 5pm local time/4pm Irish time):
15. Jared Payne (Ulster)
14. Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster)
13. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht)
12. Luke Marshall (Ballymena/Ulster)
11. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster)
10. Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster)
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt)
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster)
4. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)
6. CJ Stander (Munster)
7. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster)
16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
17. Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht)
18. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
19. Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht)
20. Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht)
22. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
23. Craig Gilroy (Bangor/Ulster)