Bundee Aki to make Ireland debut against Springboks
Cian Healy starts ahead of Jack McGrath while Keith Earls out through injury
Jack McGrath has been dropped by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. McGrath came off the bench in all three British and Irish Lions Tests against the All Blacks last summer but that’s not enough to break back into the Carton bubble.
Cian Healy is the starting loosehead again while Dave Kilcoyne’s outstanding form for Munster means McGrath, who didn’t train fully last week, will not feature against South Africa this Saturday at the Aviva stadium (kick-off 5.30pm).
“Form was a factor,” said Schmidt, “but Jack will be back. He is only just taking contact again and we know against South Africa contact will matter.”
Rob Kearney, despite two seasons riddled with back, hamstring andknee injuries, remains the Ireland fullback. The 31-year-old Louth man notches cap number 77.
“This time last year people were questioning Rob’s involvement but in Chicago I don’t think we win that game without him,” said Schmidt.
The irony of Simon Zebo having the weekend off should not be lost on anyone. Andrew Conway and the uncapped Darren Sweetnam are promoted to team and bench respectively to replace the injured Keith Earls.
Sweetnam and Conway are in a constant duel to play wing at provincial level as Zebo currently owns the 15 jersey.
The timing of Earls’ hamstring tear is desperately cruel. The 30 year old had been in the form of his life - lighting up the summer tour of USA and Japan - but the game moves on. He will not feature in November.
Jacob Stockdale, Ulster’s imposing left wing, gets a third cap but his first real test against the Springboks. The 21-year-old is followed into the Test arena by the captain of his Ireland under-20s side, James Ryan. The Leinster lock has struggled with niggly injuries in recent months but there’s enough glimpses of his rare talent, on tour in June and against Montpellier last month, to expect a bright future.
Eventually. Ryan makes the bench as cover behind Dev Toner and Iain Henderson.
Andrew Porter, another star of that Ireland 20s side that reached the 2016 Junior World Cup final, does not make the panel as he continues the adjustment, in camp, from loose to tighthead prop. John Ryan makes the squad, as cover for Tadhg Furlong, despite struggling to make the Munster XV this season.
Bundee Aki, a New Zealander of Samoan heritage, having qualified on the soon to be extended three-year residency rule, will debut alongside former Connacht teammate Robbie Henshaw.
“Few touch ups but we are building nicely for the weekend,” said Henshaw of the renewed partnership with Aki.
Henshaw has been switched to outside centre until Garry Ringrose returns from double shoulder surgery.
The backrow stocks have never been so full. Jamie Heaslip remains on the unknown list but Jack Conan cannot force his sizeable frame past Lions trio - Peter O’Mahony, Seán O’Brien and CJ Stander – with Rhys Ruddock’s outstanding form meriting number 20.
Joey Carbery wears 22 and his creative talent should appear at some stage in some position.
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Andrew Conway, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, Devin Toner; Peter O’Mahony, Seán O’Brien, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Darren Sweetnam.