Sean Cronin replaces Rory Best at hooker and Peter O’Mahony takes over the captaincy as Ireland resume their Guinness Six Nations campaign against Conor O’Shea’s Italy in Rome on Sunday (kick-off 4pm local time/3pm Irish time).
Head coach Joe Schmidt has made four changes to the team that started the 22-13 win in Scotland, bringing in Cronin for a long-awaited first Championship start – he made his Six Nations debut back in March 2010 – and also adding Dave Kilcoyne, Ultan Dillane and Jordi Murphy to the pack.
It will be flanker O’Mahony’s first time to captain Ireland in a Six Nations match, having first skippered his country on the 2013 summer tour to the USA and Canada and recently led the tour party in Australia last summer.
Kilcoyne and Dillane join Cronin in making their first Six Nations starts, with Quinn Roux combining with Dillane in an all-Connacht second row pairing. Tadhg Furlong completes the front row and the versatile Murphy gets the nod at number 8, his last start in the position coming four years ago against England.
There are milestone appearances for Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray who are Ireland’s starting half-backs for the 50th time. It is cap number 75 for Keith Earls on the right wing, while the rest of the unchanged back-line features Rob Kearney, Jacob Stockdale and centres Chris Farrell, who has shaken off a knee injury, and Bundee Aki.
The replacements bench includes Connacht out-half Jack Carty who could become Ireland’s latest debutant, while Niall Scannell, who won his first cap in Rome two years ago, Jack McGrath, John Ryan, the fit-again Iain Henderson and Andrew Conway are all set to be capped for the first time in this year’s Six Nations.
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Italy, 2019 Guinness Six Nations Championship – Round 3, Stadio Olimpico, Rome Sunday, February 24, kick-off 4pm local time/3pm Irish time):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 88
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 74
13. Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) 4
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 14
11. Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster) 16
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) (vice-capt) 80
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 69
1. Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 26
2. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 67
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 30
4. Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) 12
5. Quinn Roux (Galwegians/Connacht) 10
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) (capt) 54
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) 54
8. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Ulster) 26
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 11
17. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 53
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 16
19. Iain Henderson (Queen’s University/Ulster) 42
20. Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 15
21. John Cooney (Terenure College/Ulster) 6
22. Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) *
23. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 10
* Denotes uncapped player