The Ireland team to play Argentina at a sold-out Aviva Stadium in Saturday’s GUINNESS Series opener (kick-off 6.30pm) has been named. Hooker Rory Best returns to captain the team for the 27th time.
Rory Best missed out on Ireland’s summer tour to Australia due to a hamstring injury and was not part of the squad that travelled to Chicago last week. He is flanked by Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong as the starting front row from March’s Grand Slam-clinching win over England is reunited.
Backs Jordan Larmour, Bundee Aki and Jacob Stockdale are the only players retained from the Stateside victory over Italy, with head coach Joe Schmidt making 12 personnel changes for the opening match of the 2018 GUINNESS Series.
It is the same starting pack that lined out in last November’s 28-19 triumph over Argentina. The second row pairing sees Iain Henderson and James Ryan team up together for the fifth time, while the fit-again Sean O’Brien comes in at openside for his first international appearance in twelve months.
Munster duo Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander complete the back row, Connacht’s Kieran Marmion comes in to partner World Rugby Player of the Year nominee Jonathan Sexton at half-back, and former provincial team-mates Aki and Robbie Henshaw will man the midfield.
Following his hat-trick exploits last Saturday, the 21-year-old Larmour holds onto the number 15 jersey with regular full-back Rob Kearney back in full training today after a shoulder injury. It will be Larmour’s first start for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Ten years on from his debut at full-back, Keith Earls wins his 71st cap on the right wing with Stockdale, the 2018 Six Nations Player of the Championship, on the opposite flank. Between them, the selected back-three have scored 24 tries in Ireland’s last 20 Tests, stretching back to November 2016.
For the GUINNESS Series opener, which will be broadcast live on RTÉ Two and Channel 4, the replacements bench features seven players who got game-time against Italy, including try scorers Sean Cronin and Luke McGrath, while flanker Dan Leavy is back to full fitness after two starts for Leinster in the last fortnight.
Commenting at the team announcement, Schmidt said: “I think you’re always looking to make decisions and to be proactive about offering opportunity, but at the same time, there are players who have earned a position in the team and somebody else has to come along and grab it off them.
“Those two (Jordan Larmour and Rob Kearney) will probably continue to tussle when Rob’s available next week. It’s very much a step up for Jordan this week, but he’s given us confidence on the back of some pretty big Test matches where he’s come into the game late.
“Obviously in Twickenham where he came on in the midfield and did a really good job. He came in the third Test against Australia and did a great job coming in at full-back, and acquitted himself really well last week, both at full-back and then when he shifted to the left wing.
“That versatility, that enthusiasm, he’s a ball of energy from back there. That gets other people energised and hopefully we can maintain that throughout the game and give Jordan some more confidence in what is building to be a really positive introduction to Test rugby so far.
“We feel we’ve put a really good Test side out and they’re going to look to demonstrate that on Saturday evening. Iain Henderson wasn’t involved last week, it’s a chance for him to really put his hand up and probably play at least 50 or 60 minutes at a really high tempo.
“John Cooney was really good off the bench (against Italy), that was a headache and a bit of an elongated discussion for us. Luke was probably more familiar with the environment and the level so Luke is on the bench. Kieran got some time last week and played well. He got a knock on the ankle and just missed two games in a row.
“For him to be in the mix for next week, he needed to play this week, and also he is probably the experienced hand. He’s the guy who stepped straight in when we lost Conor (Murray) on the Thursday before playing England a couple of years ago and did a great job. He’s had the most experience and he’s a great little player for us.”
He added: “Rob Kearney was involved in the session today, he ran really well. Garry (Ringrose) didn’t train on Tuesday. At a pinch (he) could potentially play on Saturday, but we don’t want to go into an Argentinian Test match with a pinch. We want to have guys who are fully fit and ready to go.
“It just gives us a little bit more time to make sure Garry is ready to train on Monday for the following week. He’s just got a bang on the hip, so he’s just recovering from that. At the start of the week you’re trying to make sure everything is as cohesive as possible, and we wanted to maximise the time with guys that are fully fit and available.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Argentina, 2018 GUINNESS Series Test Match, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, November 10, kick-off 6.30pm):
15. Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 7
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 70
13. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 36
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 10
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 12
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 76 (vice-capt)
9. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 22
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 81
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) 111 (capt)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 26
4. Iain Henderson (Queen’s University/Ulster) 39
5. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 11
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 50 (vice-capt)
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) 51
8. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 26
16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 63
17. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 51
18. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 9
19. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 61
20. Dan Leavy (UCD/Leinster) 10
21. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 7
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) 13
23. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 8