Jack McGrath to win first Ireland cap against Samoa
O’Connell named Ireland captain but Heaslip will lead side on Saturday
Jack McGrath will make his first Ireland appearance against Samoa this weekend. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has rewarded the outstanding form of 24-year-old St Mary’s College and Leinster loosehead prop Jack McGrath, by handing him his debut for Saturday’s test match against Samoa at the Aviva stadium (5.45pm).
Jamie Heaslip will lead the team against Samoa and will be vice captain on an ongoing basis with Schmidt announcing that Paul O’Connell would be the captain on a permanent basis. The New Zealander explained: “It was a tough decision. We have a very good group who are really steering the ship so to speak. To have two guys at the helm just allows us to cover our bases.
“Obviously with Paul (O’Connell), he’s had an intermittent two years now, where he has had a number of injuries. Whereas Jamie (Heaslip) is incredibly durable, he is going to line up for every training (session) and game. It allows us to cover both bases.”
Paddy Jackson wins the starting role at outhalf in the absence of Jonathan Sexton, Fergus McFadden is on the right wing while Brian O’Driscoll will play his first competitive game since September. Ulster openside flanker Chris Henry joins Peter O’Mahony and Heaslip in the backrow. Schmidt has decided not to risk starting any players who’ve had a fractured preparatory period because of injury issues, so O’Connell, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien are included in the replacements.
McGrath has excelled for Leinster this season, scoring two tries, and producing a consistent quality in terms of his performances. He won the man-of-the-match award against the Ospreys when he acquitted himself very capably against the Lions and Wales tighthead prop Adam Jones. When asked how he felt, McGrath smiled: “I’m absolutely delighted. It is a great honour for me and the family. I heard during the week but we were under strict orders not to tell anyone. That was the deal and we kept to it. I quietly told my family Wednesday evening. I told them to keep it to themselves. They’re fairly trustworthy people, I think,” he laughed.
Jackson is preferred to Ian Madigan, the Ulster pivot benefitting from more game time so far this season, and in being chosen for his fifth cap reverses the pecking order from the summer’s North America tour. Jackson is also expected to assume the place-kicking duties.
Schmidt admitted: “Ian’s (Madigan) a player I know really well and have a lot of time for. I think he has had limited opportunity this year which obviously affects his opportunity to impress whereas Paddy (Jackson) has had that continuity of game time. He’s shown a progression through that game time that he was able to convince us that he was the right man for the job to start with. I like the fact that Ian gives you a change up off the bench. He’s also versatile. He’s played 12, he’s played13 and a fair bit at 15.
“Obviously he is a 10 first and foremost.”
McFadden beats his teammate - and the only other uncapped member of the match day squad - Dave Kearney to the left wing berth. Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy renew their record breaking centre partnership.
Devin Toner will win his eighth cap, partnering Mike McCarthy in the secondrow, while Henry will make his ninth appearance for the national side. Schmidt has elected not to take risks and that means that Sexton’s hip flexor stiffness, and the forthcoming tests against Australia and New Zealand sees him sit out this weekend.
On Sexton the Irish coach said: “He’s got a little bit of hip flexor tightness. We just felt it was pertinent with the accumulation of game time he had already, those started to show signs of wear and tear as it did with his hip flexor. I thought it was pertinent that we leave him off this weekend. If we look after him now I am absolutely confident that he would come back into the selection mix (for the Australia and New Zealand games).”
Schmidt’s selection is a nod to current form and an obvious appreciation of a three match schedule.
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), F McFadden (Leinster); P Jackson (Ulster), C Murray (Munster); J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); D Toner (Leinster), M McCarthy (Leinster); P O’Mahony (Munster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt). Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), C Healy (Leinster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), P O’Connell (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), I Madigan (Leinster), D Kearney (Leinster).