Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has named a team, which includes one new cap, for Saturday’s sold-out GUINNESS Series game against Fiji at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 5.30pm).
Munster’s Chris Farrell is set to win his first cap alongside Stuart McCloskey in a new-look and exciting centre partnership. It will be McCloskey’s first outing for Ireland since making his debut against England last year.
Andrew Conway, a try scorer on the right wing against South Africa, moves to full-back and is one of only two players retained in the starting XV from the 38-3 victory over the Springboks. Lock Devin Toner will also make it back-to-back November starts.
Darren Sweetnam, a debutant off the bench last week, comes in for his first start on the right wing and Dave Kearney returns on the left for his first international appearance since the 2016 Six Nations match away to France.
Connacht’s Kieran Marmion is the most-capped member of the starting back-line with 17 Tests to date. He is set for his fourth Ireland start of the calendar year, featuring at half-back alongside Joey Carbery whose only previous start at number 10 was against the USA in June.
In a team that shows 13 personnel changes, flanker Rhys Ruddock reprises his summer tour role as captain. It will be his fourth time to lead Ireland in the space of five months. The back row is completed by the fit-again Jordi Murphy, who returns for his first cap since last November’s win over New Zealand, and Jack Conan.
Ultan Dillane gets his second start in the engine room, combining with Toner, while Jack McGrath returns to the loosehead spot in a front row that also includes Rob Herring, a try-scoring replacement against the ‘Boks, and the 21-year-old Andrew Porter who is set for his first start and home debut for Ireland.
James Tracy, who made his debut last November against Canada, and Kieran Treadwell, who won his first cap on the recent summer tour, are included among the replacements. Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, CJ Stander and Robbie Henshaw are on bench duty after starting the South Africa match, while half-backs Luke McGrath and Ian Keatley completed a much-changed matchday 23.
Commenting on the team selection, head coach Joe Schmidt said: “We’re just hoping that these guys try to follow up the benchmark set last week. It’s a real challenge for them. There will be some really tough moments and it will be interesting to see how they work their way through it.
“We want to give them a really stern test now to see if that progression can continue under real stress. It’s always a concern, but I can’t fault the application of this group.
“If they can bring that into the game, start well, get early confidence, I’d hope they can acquit themselves really well. I’m hoping for variety, that they can link up and play with width, but also be direct when we need to be. A lot of energy defensively, they are well able to dominate the gain-line.”
He added: “It’s not even about a four-year (World Cup) cycle, it’s more about guys working hard and being given an opportunity. I said there are no guarantees for a Test jersey, a chance for you to come in, fit in and work your way through to impress us and the players that have been before you.
“Now they have that visible opportunity. There’s no better way to test people than to throw them into the arena. The only problem with a Test is that you are so visible, and any error is very visible, and you’re playing against players who will exploit any weakness.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Fiji, 2017 GUINNESS Series, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, November 18, kick-off 5.30pm):
15. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 4
14. Darren Sweetnam (Cork Constitution/Munster) 1
13. Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) *
12. Stuart McCloskey (Bangor/UIster) 1
11. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) 16
10. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster) 5
9. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 17
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 41
2. Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 2
3. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 2
4. Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) 10
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 51
6. Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) (capt) 17
7. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster) 17
8. Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 4
16. James Tracy (UCD/Leinster) 4
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 71
18. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 17
19. Kieran Treadwell (Ballymena/Ulster) 2
20. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 16
21. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 4
22. Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster) 5
23. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 30
* Denotes uncapped player