Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has made three personnel changes for the eagerly-awaited Rugby World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 7.15pm local time/11.15am Irish time).
Garry Ringrose replaces the suspended Bundee Aki in midfield, with Robbie Henshaw moving to inside centre, while the vastly-experienced Rob Kearney comes back in at full-back for his 95th Ireland cap.
Vice-captain Peter O’Mahony is also restored to the back row, with his Munster colleague Tadhg Beirne dropping back to the bench. Captaining Ireland for the 38th time, hooker Rory Best will make his 15th Rugby World Cup appearance.
Behind the scrum, Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray will become Ireland’s most-capped half-back pairing of all-time. They first lined out together against the USA at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Sexton and Murray overtake Munster greats Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer as they are paired together as starters for Ireland for the 56th time.
Twelve of the starting XV for Saturday’s clash also started in the 16-9 victory over New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium last November. Henshaw and Murray both missed that match through injury and Iain Henderson started on the bench.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s game, Schmidt said: “The unfortunate thing about any 23 that comes up against the All Blacks is that they can play very well and still not get the result. That’s the quality that the All Blacks have – that’s the athletes that they possess.
“But one of the things is that they (the Ireland players) have connected up very well. They have had some pretty successful experiences together. There are a number of players within that side who have contributed to a fair bit of history for us.
“Obviously, the first win over the All Blacks, the first time we won at home against the All Blacks, but a few other milestones along the way. A lot of those players that are selected were in Australia last summer, were in South Africa the summer before when we won in Cape Town.
“So the accumulation of those experiences together hopefully builds a bit of confidence – because you need to have some belief. You can’t go out against an All Blacks side and accept that you’re second fiddle. You’ve got to go out and put your best foot forward and we hope that this 23 will be committed to doing that.”
He added: “There’s probably four or five – or maybe half-a-dozen – reasonably tight selection decisions and you weigh up the experience, the previous performances against particular opposition and the combinations.
“But you can’t guarantee that you’ve got any decision right until the game is completed. Obviously, with Bundee missing out, that clarified the midfield a little bit but Chris Farrell has been very good for us. In his performance against Scotland, he really came on and made an influential impact.
“On the wings, Andrew Conway has been very good as well, so the outside backs are a bit of a conundrum. In the loose forwards (there is) Jordi Murphy’s versatility, the fact that he is two from two playing against the All Blacks.
“We’ve tried to add up as best we can the combinations that we think will best serve us in this particular fixture.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v New Zealand, 2019 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final, Tokyo Stadium, Saturday, October 19, kick-off 7.15pm local time/11.15am Irish time):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 94
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 81
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 28
12. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 39
11. Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster) 24
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 87
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 77
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 94
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 123
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 40
4. Iain Henderson (Queen’s University/Ulster) 52
5. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 22
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 63
7. Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 22
8. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 37
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 19
17. Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 35
18. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 22
19. Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster) 12
20. Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 25
21. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 18
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) 21
23. Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 20