There are four changes to the Ireland team to play New Zealand in Saturday’s GUINNESS Series clash at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 7pm). Rob Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Devin Toner and Dan Leavy all return to the starting line-up.
Rob Kearney has recovered from a shoulder injury to slot in at full-back, making his first international appearance since June’s series win over Australia. Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale continue on the wings, reuniting the back-three from the third Test victory over the Wallabies.
Garry Ringrose and Kieran Marmion have shaken off their respective hip and ankle injuries with Ringrose partnering Bundee Aki in midfield for the second time this month, while Marmion has beaten off stiff competition to team up again with Jonathan Sexton at half-back.
Rory Best captains Ireland for the 28th time, looking to make history by leading them to their first home success against the All Blacks. Eleven members of this weekend’s squad played in the historic 40-29 win over New Zealand in Chicago in November 2016, with Ringrose and Marmion unused replacements that day.
Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong feature alongside Best in an unchanged front row, which is backed up by the 22-year-old James Ryan alongside Devin Toner who gets the nod over Iain Henderson in the second row.
Dan Leavy, who replaced the injured Sean O’Brien during the first half against Argentina, will don the number 7 jersey as he combines with Munster duo Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander in the back row. Number 8 Stander was one of Ireland’s five try scorers in Chicago two years ago.
Head coach Joe Schmidt has a strong replacements bench at his disposal this weekend, which includes Henderson and Jordan Larmour, two of the starters from the Pumas game, as well as flanker Josh van der Flier who played in both of the 2016 matches against Steve Hansen’s men.
Commenting on the team selection, Schmidt said: “There were some tough decisions. There’s some very good players who we feel we’ve left out. There’s some players who played well in the first two games and unfortunately don’t get an opportunity, but you can only name 23 players.
“We felt right from that first game Rhys Ruddock led from the front. There were good performances from the likes of Jack Conan, Will Addison stepping in at the last minute last week. When we did name the team for today’s training, I think everyone felt they were in with a chance. So, there’s some disappointed players but they will be 100% behind the team that was selected.
“We had a few guys who needed to get through a couple of trainings. It’s never ideal but even at the end of training we were still making some decisions for Saturday. So there were a couple of decisions that we made post-training just to make sure that guys go through fully and the medics were satisfied that they were fully fit.”
He added: “We weren’t that far away in that Test (at home to New Zealand two years ago). 14-9 with 15 minutes to go, that’s a one-score game when Malakai Fekitoa scored the try that gave them the breach, I suppose, that was a little bit too far to cross.
“Even then we got quite close to their line, Seanie (O’Brien) almost went over, Rob Kearney was dragged down five metres short, so we weren’t too far away. Along those lines, we’ve just got to be prepared for what they’ll bring. I think they’ve got a top side out.
“We know that they’ll come after us in some areas because they did last time. They came at us off kick-off, they certainly, based on what they did to England last week, will come after our lineout, and they go after most scrums, but that’s been an area of strength for us, so we’ll keep trying to make sure that that stays rock solid for us. Apart from that, when the game’s up and running it’s likely to be fairly manic.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v New Zealand, 2018 GUINNESS Series Test Match, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, November 17, kick-off 7pm):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 86
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 71
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 15
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 11
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 13
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) (vice-capt) 77
9. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 23
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 82
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 112
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 27
4. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 62
5. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 12
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) (vice-capt) 51
7. Dan Leavy (UCD/Leinster) 11
8. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 27
16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 64
17. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 52
18. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 10
19. Iain Henderson (Queen’s University/Ulster) 40
20. Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 11
21. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 8
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) 14
23. Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 8