Robbie Diack handed Ireland debut
Rodney Ah You and Kieran Marmion could also win their first caps if they come on against Argentina on Saturday night
Ireland new cap Robbie Diack. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
By Gerry Thornley
As expected, the South African-born Robbie Diack, who qualifies by residency, will make his debut for Ireland against Argentina on Saturday (7.40pm) as one of eight changes from the starting team which kicked off the Six Nations Championship win in Paris.
The 28-year-old Diack will pack down alongside his Ulster teammate Chris Henry in a back-row which also also sees Jordi Murphy make his first test start after a couple of appearances off the bench against England and Italy.
In addition to Diack and Henry, the other changes up front see Jack McGrath and Iain Henderson promoted from the bench in place of the absent Cian Healy and Devin Toner who, like Jamie Heaslip, is kept in reserve on the bench after their Leinster exertions of late.
As was also anticipated, opportunity knocks for Darren Cave, who forms an all-Ulster midfield partnership outside Luke Marshall, and Simon Zebo, who is restored for his first game since a fairly disastrous outing 12 months ago in the 15-12 win away to the USA Eagles, as well as Felix Jones at fullback.
Ian Madigan and Fergus McFadden are other Leinster players whom Joe Schmidt has not asked to back up from last week’s exhausting defence of their Rabo Pro12 final against Glasgow, with Rob Kearney kept for next week’s second test in Tucuman.
“Yeah it was difficult in some ways but it was actually relatively easy in other ways,” said the Irish coach of his team selection. “There are a number of players that are fatigued from the Pro12 final, there are a number of players that we wanted to give an opportunity. We have this one window to really do that.
“The Guinness series is going to be a immeasurably tougher with South Africa and Australia, but it’s going to be very, very tough here, and one of the things that you want to find out is how the players cope in a tough environment.
“It will be hostile, it’s a place where test match rugby hasn’t been before so the local population will be very much behind the Argentinians.”
“It’s a pitch that’s a different size,” added Schmidt in reference to the cramped dimensions of the Estadio Centenario in Resistencia, where the squad took their 90-minute flight from a sunny Buenos Aires this afternoon, “and it’s a combination that, it’s the first time they’ve been put together for Ireland. So there is a number of challenges, we just want to really see how they manage the situation.”
For more than just Diack, Murphy, Cave, Zebo and Jones, Schmidt agreed this test represented both a great opportunity and a real responsibility. “If the opportunity is afforded to you then I think you’ve got to reciprocate with the best performance you can put together.
“The way they’ve trained this week that’s certainly what they are working towards with the combinations we have, with the combative nature of the way the Argentinians play.
“They are a little bit unknown, they are a little bit harder to predict than other teams we have played. Then to be able to react and endure what will be a pretty tough test match in a very tough environment, it’s going to give us a bit more information about how these guys will cope in the future.”
In that regard Schmidt expects a huge challenge. “Absolutely, since I was a kid I’ve watched teams come to Argentina and I’ve even seen Argentinian teams get hockeyed away from home and then suddenly they come back here and there is a whole different mind-set.
“Even having a chat with Felipe Contepomi yesterday evening, he’s very conscious that this team will be very, very tough to beat.”
15. Felix Jones (Shannon/Munster) 5
14. Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster) 55
13. Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) 5
12. Luke Marshall (Ballnyahinch/Ulster) 5
11. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster) 6
10. Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92) 43
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 27
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 8
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) 75
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster) 39
4. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 10
5. Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster) 92 capt
6. Robbie Diack (Malone/Ulster) *
7. Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster) 14
8. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster) 2
16. Damien Varley (Garryowen/Munster) 2
17. Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 8
18. Rodney Ah You (Buccaneers/Connacht) *
19. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 15
20. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) 65
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) *
22. Ian Madigan (Blackrock/Leinster) 8
23. Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 26
*denotes uncapped player