Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has announced the team that will play against the Māori All Blacks in the opening fixture of the summer tour of New Zealand.
Bundee Aki will captain Ireland in this uncapped match at FMG Stadium Waikato (kick-off 7.05pm local time/8.05am Irish time), as the two sides face off for the first time since 2010.
Aki returns to Hamilton, the home of the Chiefs, the team he won a Super Rugby title with back in 2013.
The back-line features Ciaran Frawley and Craig Casey at half-back, in-form Ulster ace James Hume completes the centre combination, while the back-three sees Jordan Larmour and Keith Earls on the wings with Leinster’s Jimmy O’Brien at full-back.
Jeremy Loughman, Dave Heffernan and 23-year-old tighthead Tom O’Toole make up the front row, with Kieran Treadwell and promising Leinster youngster Joe McCarthy at lock.
Cian Prendergast, the Rugby Players Ireland Young Player of the Year, Nick Timoney and Gavin Coombes join forces in a youthful back row.
The replacements are Niall Scannell, who has flown in as cover at hooker, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery and Michael Lowry.
Speaking ahead of the tour’s first midweek match, which will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Action with live updates also on RTÉ Radio 1, Farrell commented: “It’s huge, it’s everything to these players that are taking the field on Wednesday.
“It’s the biggest game of their lives. It is. I know there’s a three-game series coming up, but these two Māori games and what we’re trying to build and how we’re trying to put people under pressure and see how they come through that, is just as important.
“We know we’re up against a very strong Māori side, that’s exactly what we came over here for with the size of squad that we’ve got.”
He added: “We’re training with a squad of 23 guys who are getting ready for the Māori game, and then we’ve got 13 or 14 guys that are getting ready for a Test match.
“The Test match boys are not training with the subs, etc. We’re waiting to see how the Wednesday night game goes, who is going to get picked to take the field in the 23 for the Test match…
“We picked that on purpose because we want to be adaptable, we want to put ourselves under pressure, and I’m sure that the All Blacks are thinking the same.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements v (Māori All Blacks, 2022 Summer Tour, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, Wednesday, June 29, kick-off 7.05pm local time/8.05am Irish Time):
15. Jimmy O’Brien (Naas/Leinster) *
14. Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 30
13. James Hume (Banbridge/Ulster) 3
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) (capt) 37
11. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 96
10. Ciaran Frawley (Skerries/Leinster) *
9. Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster) 5
1. Jeremy Loughman (Garryowen/Munster) *
2. Dave Heffernan (Buccaneers/Connacht) 6
3. Tom O’Toole (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 2
4. Kieran Treadwell (Ballymena/Ulster) 5
5. Joe McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster) *
6. Cian Prendergast (Connacht) *
7. Nick Timoney (Banbridge/Ulster) 2
8. Gavin Coombes (Young Munster/Munster) 2
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 20
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 116
18. Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht) 23
19. Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster) 8
20. Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 27
21. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 96
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) 32
23. Michael Lowry (Banbridge/Ulster) 1
* Denotes uncapped player at international level