Jared Payne is the latest man to be handed the famous No13 jersey as Joe Schmidt confirmed the New Zealander’s surprise partnership with Robbie Henshaw in the centre for Saturday’s clash with South Africa.
As revealed in Wednesday’s Irish Independent, the Ireland coach will hand the Ulster star his debut against the Springboks in a new-look midfield that sees Gordon D’Arcy lose out.
Henshaw shifts inside to take over from the 34-year-old Leinsterman who injured his groin against Castres two weeks ago and missed some of Ireland’s preparatory sessions last week.
The decision represents a major roll of the dice from the Ireland coach given neither man has huge experience in their position. Henshaw has played almost all of his senior rugby at outside centre, while Payne has largely been used at full-back before switching into the centre this year.
The two men had been primed to do battle for the shirt vacated by Brian O'Driscoll, but now they will work together against the world's second best side.
As expected, Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin join the fit-again Mike Ross in the front-row, while the rest of the pack is unchanged from Ireland’s Six Nations win against France with Peter O’Mahony fully recovered from his shoulder problems and back on the blindside.
Conor Murray joins Johnny Sexton at half-back, while Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe man the wings in the absence of Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble, with Rob Kearney starting at full-back.
The presence of Munster full-back Felix Jones on the bench indicated there are still concerns over the Leinster man’s fitness, while Rodney Ah You will play some part with Ross short on game time.
It will be a big test for the Connacht player who visibly struggled on debut in Argentina, while replacement hooker Richardt Strauss also looks short on game time as he prepares to take on his cousin Adriaan once again as he lines up on the Springbok bench.
Leinster’s Mike McCarthy has seen off the challenge of Munster’s Dave Foley to lend some experience to a bench that includes Ian Madigan who gets the nod ahead of Ian Keatley.
Ireland team to face South Africa on Saturday (kick-off: 5.30): R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony, C Henry, J Heaslip. Reps: D Kilcoyne, R Strauss, M McCarthy, R Ruddock, E Reddan, I Madigan, F Jones.
Ireland boss Schmidt said circumstances led him to pair Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne in midfield - but challenged the duo to match their physicality with the kind of iron will Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy exuded for a generation.
If you like your steak well done with sauce on the side then the Test next Saturday probably isn't for you. A la carte savagery, rawness and inviolate ferocity are pretty much guaranteed in any Test match against the Springboks.
SOUTH African head coach Heyneke Meyer has no fears about pitching a relative rookie out-half into the fray against Ireland this week in opposition to what he labels one of the outstanding pivots of world rugby, Jonathan Sexton.