The Ireland team to play Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations at BT Murrayfield on Saturday (kick-off 2.25pm) has been named by head coach Joe Schmidt.
There are three personnel changes and two positional switches to the Ireland team that battled their way to a thrilling 27-24 win over Australia in November’s third and final GUINNESS Series match.
Robbie Henshaw is reunited with his Leinster centre partner Garry Ringrose in midfield, covering the absence of the sidelined Jared Payne (kidney), with Six Nations debutant Ringrose swapping the number 12 jersey for 13.
The second change in the backs sees groin injury victim Andrew Trimble make way for Simon Zebo who starred as a replacement against the Wallabies and has scored six tries in his last nine appearances for Munster.
Moving to the right wing, Keith Earls completes the back-three with Zebo and full-back Rob Kearney, while Ulster out-half Paddy Jackson, who made his debut away to Scotland four years ago, will win his 20th cap at half-back alongside Conor Murray. Jonathan Sexton is ruled out with a calf injury.
The front five is unchanged from Ireland’s most recent Test, with hooker Rory Best – captaining his country for the 16th time on the occasion of his 101st cap – joined by Leinster props Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong in the front row. It will be Furlong’s first Six Nations start.
Iain Henderson gets the nod in the second row where he partners Devin Toner, while Sean O’Brien, who has shaken off a calf injury, returns to the openside flanker berth, forming a powerful row combination with CJ Stander and vice-captain Jamie Heaslip.
Munster’s in-form hooker Niall Scannell (24) is standing by to win his first Ireland cap. He is part of a strong bench that includes fellow Six Nations newcomer John Ryan, Cian Healy, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, Kieran Marmion, Ian Keatley, who could make his first international appearance in two years, and fit-again winger Tommy Bowe who was last involved in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.
Commenting on some of the players selected and the injury concerns in the extended squad, head coach Joe Schmidt said: “Donnacha Ryan had a niggling medial ligament so he didn’t train last week. Tuesday was the first time he trained. He’s been super for us in recent times but it really is a tight turnaround and we just had uncertainty around Donnacha.
“We wanted to see how he finished up after training on Tuesday and he came through really well, trained well today as well but we wanted more certainty than that and at the same time Iain here as done a super job for us in the past and Dev has also given us sterling service.
“Johnny (Sexton) was incredibly motivated for this Six Nations Championship. He’s probably frustrated he did the (calf) injury in the first place in Castres and that’s hung over until now. He’s probably played about 82 minutes for the national team in the last eight Test matches so for us it’s a real frustration and no different for him.
“In the three Six Nations I’ve been involved in, Johnny has dominated the number 10 position so we’re still hopeful he’ll come in and do that for us but at the same time Paddy has trained really well.
“Paddy played all three Tests in South Africa so it’s not like he hasn’t had really good experience in recent times at a very high level.
“I don’t think there’s many players who don’t go through injury and a bit of bad luck. It was a very minor injury going into the Castres match for Johnny and it just triggered an extension of that injury so for us it’s just about getting him 100% fit before he goes out there.
“It’s a bit like Rob Kearney last year with a series of continuous injuries. He’s been really robust for us this yaer. Things tend to ebb and flow a bit and hopefully they’ll flow a bit better in the back half of the Championship.”
Schmidt, who admitted that Sexton has ‘an outside chance’ for the Italy match next week, added: “Peter O’Mahony is highly unlikely (for Italy). Peter is probably bordering on grade one/grade two with his hamstring. It’s a strain, it’s not bad but if we push him back too soon we don’t want to cause further damage.
“We’ll progress him a bit slower which will probably mean the turnaround for Italy would be too tight. Andrew Trimble, we would be pretty confident. Again it’s more of a niggle – not anything serious – but it would be a fine line this weekend and again we don’t want someone going out and coming off in the first 15-20 minutes.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Scotland, 2017 RBS 6 Nations Championship, BT Murrayfield, Saturday, February 4, kick-off 2.25pm):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 72
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 54
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 3
12. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 24
11. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster) 28
10. Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster) 19
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 53
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 36
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 100
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 11
4. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 28
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 42
6. CJ Stander (Munster) 10
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) 44
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (vice-capt) 91
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) *
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 62
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 1
19. Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) 8
20. Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 5
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 9
22. Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster) 4
23. Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) 67
* Denotes uncapped player