Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has made five personnel changes and four positional switches to the team for Saturday’s series decider against Australia at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium (kick-off 8.05pm local time/11.05am Irish time).
Captain Peter O’Mahony and Jack McGrath, one of the incoming players, will make their 50th appearances for Ireland this weekend, while Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Sean Cronin and Jack Conan also return to the starting XV.
McGrath and Cronin, who comes in for his first start since the 2016 win over Canada, form the front row with Tadhg Furlong, the try-scoring man-of-the-match from last Saturday’s second Test victory. Winning his 60th cap, Devin Toner packs down again with James Ryan in the second row.
A reshuffled back row sees flanker O’Mahony shift to openside, CJ Stander moves to the blindside berth and Wicklow man Conan comes in at number 8 for his sixth Test start in the last year. His Leinster colleague Dan Leavy misses out with a sternum injury.
Iain Henderson (knee) and Garry Ringrose (foot) are also sidelined, with the latter’s place in the centre taken by Aki who started the first Test in Brisbane. Robbie Henshaw reverts to the outside centre position, while Stockdale takes over from the injured Andrew Conway (hip pointer), and Earls switches back to the right wing.
The starting back-line is completed by the 85-times capped Rob Kearney and half-backs Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray, with Sexton’s 16-point kicking haul against the Wallabies last week taking his Ireland tally to 699 points.
Ross Byrne, the remaining uncapped player in the tour squad, could make his debut on Saturday having been named among the replacements. Tadhg Beirne, who won his first cap in Melbourne, Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Jordi Murphy, Kieran Marmion and Jordan Larmour complete the matchday 23.
Commenting on the team selection, Joe Schmidt said: “There were a number who couldn’t train on Tuesday which affected how the players would have kicked on in the starting 15. Andrew Conway is still debilitated by that hip pointer in the action of him scoring the try early in the second Test. Iain Henderson hasn’t recovered sufficiently from the knock on the knee. Dan Leavy was unavailable and Garry Ringrose was unavailable with a foot injury.
“Those four guys were unavailable, and some other guys were patched up during the week at various times and we’ve got a 23 that we’re pretty excited about, knowing that the Australians are going to have a super outfit as well. It’s going to be a real Test match to decide the series.
“We’d love to see Sean (Cronin) do really well in the set pieces. We obviously had Niall Scannell doing really well last week and Rob Herring has been super, I thought his performance off the bench last week was really good.
“The other thing from Sean is that dynamic ball carry, that dynamic line-speed he can bring and he’s an incredibly combative character, so we’re looking forward to seeing all those elements really.
“I thought Peter did really well over the ball last week, it’s something that he’s very capable of doing. (The back row) maintains the lineout presence that he offers, the leadership that he’s brought to the team through this series. With Dan Leavy unavailable, it was probably just an opportunity for Jack Conan to get in at number 8. Once he was in at number 8 and trying to maintain a bit of continuity through the spine of the team, CJ Stander shifted to six and Peter to seven.
“Having said that, we felt that Jordi Murphy came off the bench really well last week. He played the week before, so his game volume is quite high and we decided, well there were a number of things to balance really. We were waiting to see how Dan came through the week, he’s had very little time on tour out on the pitch and unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.”
He added: “Ross Byrne has been super and that was probably always part of the plan, really, to make sure that Joey Carbery got a start on the tour and Ross Byrne got an opportunity at some stage. We’ll see how the game is going as to how much and what it looks like for Ross to get onto the pitch but he’s trained really well.
“He’s a smart kid, he’s picked things up really quickly, he’s been flexible. He’s had to move around a little bit, which has given us confidence because whenever you’re putting someone on the bench, to have some sort of flexibility to play a couple of positions is really important.
“That’s been an asset as well, having Ross move around a little bit from 10 to 12. If he can cover those two, Jordan Larmour just about ticks every other box.”
The third Test between Australia and Ireland will will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Main Event/Action (TV) and RTE 2fm (radio). Ireland supporters can follow all the news from the summer tour here on IrishRugby.ie and via the IRFU’s social media channels.
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Australia, 2018 Summer Tour Third Test, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, Saturday, June 23, kick-off 8.05pm local time/11.05am Irish time):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 85
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 69
13. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 35
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 8
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 10
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 75
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 66
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 49
2. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 62
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 25
4. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 59
5. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 10
6. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 25
7. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) (capt) 49
8. Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 8
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 8
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 80
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 14
19. Tadhg Beirne (Scarlets) 1
20. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster) 22
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 22
22. Ross Byrne (UCD/Leinster) *
23. Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 5
* Denotes uncapped player