Schmidt changes up Ireland back row

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 14:59
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TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Joe Schmidt has changed up his loose forwards for Ireland's Round Two Six Nations encounter with Italy.

Jack Conan and Dan Leavy will make their first Six Nations starts, after Joe named the back row duo in the starting XV to face Italy on Saturday at Lansdowne Road.

Conan, 25, and Leavy come in for Christiaan Stander - who was outstanding in the nerve-wracking 15-13 victory over France last weekend - and Josh van der Flier respectively, amongst four changes, all in the scrum.

Stander is on the replacements bench whilst Van der Flier will play no further role in the tournament after a first-half injury in Paris ruled him out for the rest of the season.

Flank Leavy, 23, came on for his Leinster team-mate and put in an impressive performance.

No.8 Conan, who like Leavy and Van der Flier plays for Leinster, will win his sixth cap. With four tries already to his name, the Italian defence will be on high alert to the dangers he can cause.

The other two changes see veteran lock Devin Toner restored to the second row alongside Iain Henderson.

James Ryan, 21, caught the eye on his Six Nations debut against the French but is rested entirely, potentially with one eye on a tougher day at the office at home to Wales in a fortnight's time.

Jack McGrath comes in for Leinster team-mate Cian Healy at prop.

Exciting young talent Jordan Larmour - who is predominantly a fullback but can also play on the wing - is likely to win his first cap as the 20-year-old is named on the replacements bench.

Schmidt has opted to retain his world class halfback pairing of scrumhalf Conor Murray and flyhalf Johnny Sexton, whose drop goal at the end of 41 phases clinched the win in dramatic style over the French.

Hoary old hooker Rory Best captains the side in what will be his 108th Test appearance for Ireland, drawing him third equal with Paul O'Connell on the all-time Irish list.

The Irish - seen by many as the biggest threat to end England's two year dominance of the Six Nations - will start as hot favourites against an Italy side that put up a good contest against the English last weekend before running out of steam and losing 46-15.          

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Christiaan Stander, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.

Date: Saturday, February 10
Venue: Aviva Stadium Dublin
Kick-off: 14.15 (15.15 Italian time; 14.15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)

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Fri, 23 February 2018
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SIX NATIONS
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Team P W D L Pts
Ireland 2 2 0 0 9
England 2 2 0 0 9
Wales 2 1 0 1 6
Scotland 2 1 0 1 4
France 2 0 0 2 2
Italy 2 0 0 2 0