Johnny Sexton and Brian O'Driscoll keep Ireland guessing
JOHNNY SEXTON and Brian O'Driscoll face late fitness tests before Joe Schmidt names his team to face New Zealand this afternoon.
Ireland will train at Carton House before the coach names his team at 1.30 and question marks remain over the availability of two of the key men behind the scrum.
Paddy Jackson is believed to be on standby in the likely case that the Racing Metro out-half will not be able to shake off his hamstring injury and make himself available for Sunday's clash, while Robbie Henshaw and Luke Fitzgerald are battling for the No 13 jersey if the former Ireland captain cannot come through this morning's session.
Gordon D'Arcy will return to the team after Luke Marshall was released back to Ulster for tonight's Pro12 clash with Edinburgh, while Conor Murray could be in line for a return having missed out against Australia last week in place of Eoin Reddan.
Dave Kearney appears likely to line out on the left wing, although Fitzgerald is another option for the shirt vacated by the injured Fergus McFadden, while Rob Kearney should retain his place at full-back as long as he feels no more ill-effects from the rib injury he suffered against Australia last weekend.
With so much disruption to the back-line, Schmidt is not expected to make many changes to his pack. Jack McGrath has claims for a starting spot, but Cian Healy should hold on to the No 1 jersey.
The big question surrounds Sexton's hamstring and Schmidt said last Saturday that he could be tempted to give his key man as much time as possible to recover from the strain he suffered at the end of the first half last week.
New Zealand will name their team an hour and a half before Ireland, with Aaron Cruden likely to be included at out-half in place of the injured Dan Carter.
A decision on Tony Woodcock's availability will also be made this morning, while Andrew Hore is expected to be included for his 83rd and final cap as an All Black.
Steven Luatua may replace Liam Messam at blindside as Steve Hansen wants to freshen his team up for their final Test of 2013, while Luke Romano could come into the second-row.
Ireland (possible) – R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton/P Jackson, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.