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Porter And Farrell Come In As Two Of Ireland’s Five Changes

Porter And Farrell Come In As Two Of Ireland’s Five Changes

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has made five changes for Saturday’s NatWest 6 Nations match against Wales at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 2.15pm).

Andrew Porter replaces the injured Tadhg Furlong (hamstring) for his first Six Nations start at tighthead, while Championship debutant Chris Farrell takes the place of shoulder injury victim Robbie Henshaw, reforming his centre partnership with Bundee Aki from last November’s win over Argentina.

Iain Henderson, who has tightness in his quad and hamstring, is ruled out, so James Ryan will make his second Six Nations start alongside Devin Toner in an all-Leinster second row, and there are straight swaps at loosehead prop and number 8 where Cian Healy and CJ Stander both start.

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Combining with Porter and Healy in the front row is captain Rory Best who will become Ireland’s most-capped forward of all-time on Saturday. It will be the Ulster hooker’s 109th appearance for his country, moving him ahead of former skipper Paul O’Connell (108), with only Ronan O’Gara (128) and Brian O’Driscoll (133) now ahead of Best.

Fresh from his first Six Nations start against Italy a fortnight ago, Dan Leavy continues at openside flanker with Munster captain Peter O’Mahony completing the back row. Ryan, Porter and Leavy are aged 21, 22 and 23 respectively.

An unchanged back-three includes Rob Kearney at full-back and Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale on the wings, with the latter pair scoring three of Ireland’s eight tries against Italy. Farrell, who started against Fiji and Argentina during the 2017 GUINNESS Series, and Aki will have experienced half-backs Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray alongside them.

Jack McGrath and Jack Conan drop back to the replacements bench, joining Sean Cronin, Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion and Joey Carbery who all got game-time against Italy. Munster’s John Ryan will provide cover at tighthead, while versatile back Fergus McFadden reclaims the number 23 jersey.

Talking about the team selection, Joe Schmidt said: “Iain was very close, he could definitely play next weekend, and the week after he will be fine. Tadhg was close as well. We thought on Tuesday with Tadhg he may well make it, but the progress just stalled a little bit so we said let’s not chase this, let’s focus on the opportunity for other people and get you right for Scotland in a couple of weeks’ time.

“They are world class players, you don’t suddenly replace world class players, but we’re a lot more focused on who we do have. Who we do have is Andrew Porter who is a really promising young player that we’re excited about, and James Ryan likewise.

“We’re short on experience and we’re up against a team welcoming back three Lions while we see three disappear. So yes that’s not ideal, but at the same time, if you want to learn, what better environment than a really white-hot atmosphere in the Aviva on Saturday.

“After just over three minutes against Italy, Andrew had to come on to replace Tadhg and did a sterling job, for 76-and-a-half minutes. So he acquitted himself really well, I know it’s not the same level – Rob Evans is a tricky customer, the angles and stepping around, all those will be really good learning experiences for Andrew Porter.

“And they’ve got to learn somewhere and this is a really good opportunity for him. We are ready to test the strength of our squad, we’re always ready to test the strength of our squad, and we would like to think that is as seamless as possible. The forward pack still have just as much enthusiasm for what they need to roll their sleeves up and get ready for on Saturday.”

He added: “I’ve been talking to Chris Farrell for three of four years, he’s been a long-term project, and I thought he did really well against Argentina in only his second Test. He kinda found his feet a bit against Fiji.

“I thought he was really good against Argentina and I think he showed there’s a bit more to Chris Farrell than a bludgeon – nice soft skills and a tight pass, he’s got a good length in his pass. He’s actually got pretty good kicking skills.

“I thought his defensive acumen on the day against an Argentinian team with the likes of (Joaquin) Tuculet coming into the back-line, just outside that midfield area, where he’s kind of in the midfield and then looking to get out to those sort of guys, I thought he closed the space down really well. They’d be probably some of the things that we’d volunteer as the strengths we see with Chris.”

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Wales, 2018 NatWest 6 Nations Championship, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, February 24, kick-off 2.15pm):

Player/Club/Province/Caps –

15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 80
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 64
13. Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) 2
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 4
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 6
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 70
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 61
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 75
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 108
3. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 4
4. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 5
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 55
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 44
7. Dan Leavy (UCD/Leinster) 6
8. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 20

16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 58
17. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 44
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 12
19. Quinn Roux (Galwegians/Connacht) 4
20. Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 6
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 19
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster) 7
23. Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 33