Sunday 25 February 2018

Joe Schmidt makes seven changes for Wallabies class

Joe Schmidt has raised some eyebrows by making seven changes to his starting XV for this weekend's Guinness Series International against the Wallabies at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

The Lions quintet of Cian Healy, Tommy Bowe, Jonathan Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien are restored to the team.

It will be the first time since Ireland's quarter-final defeat to Wales at the 2011 Rugby World Cup that Brian O'Driscoll and O'Connell will line out alongside each other.

"I think it's great for us (that they start together). They are very much talismanic for us. One in the backs and one in the forwards. It's fantastic to have them back on the field," Schmidt said.

Dr O'Driscoll will be partnered in midfield in Ulster's Luke Marshall who comes on for Gordon D'Arcy, who is omitted from the matchday 23.

Devin Toner has got the nod ahead of Mike McCarthy to partner Paul O'Connell in the second row.

Eoin Reddan starts at scrum-half ahead of Conor Murray with Sexton replacing Paddy Jackson who doesn't make the replacements bench with Ian Madigan preferred because he can play across the back division.

Last week's man-of-the-match from the 40-9 win over Samoa, Jack McGrath, drops to bench with Cian Healy taking his place.

There is no place in the squad for last week's double tryscorer Dave Kearney with Connacht's Robbie Henshaw likely to see some game time from the bench.

Kevin McLaughlin is preferred to Shane Jennings and Jamie Coughlan as back-row cover on the replacements bench.

Joe Schmidt explained his team selection by saying: "It's an opportunity to broaden the squad. One of the things I feel we have to do is have 30-35 players with the ability to play international rugby.

"We're trying to grow the group so we get competition within the squad and be as competitive on the field as we possibly can be.

"Coming into this autumn series we had a mindset that we were going to grow the squad.

On Conor Murray not making the team and Paddy Jackson and Gordon D'Arcy not making the squad, Schmidt added:"Conor started last week and Eoin starts this week so it gives him an opportunity to put his hand up as well.

"I think Conor did well last week, I don't think there was anything the matter with his game. He cover defended particularly well.

"It's the same, we're happy with Gordon D'Arcy but we're giving an opportunity to Luke Marshall.

"Gordon spent time with Luke right through the week making sure Luke could understand and be as prepared as he could be and that's the sort of squad that has the potential to develop."

"We were delighted with Paddy Jackson and it's unlucky for Paddy we just feel that Ian gives us more coverage off the bench."

Ireland team to play Australia: (15-9) R Kearney, T. Bowe, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall, F McFadden, J Sexton, E Reddan; (1-8) C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D Toner, P O'Connell, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: (16-23) S Cronin, J McGrath, S Archer, M McCarthy, K McLaughlin, C Murray, I Madigan, R Henshaw.

Irish Independent

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