Tokyo: Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw will replace banned centre Bundee Aki for their World Cup quarter-final against defending champions New Zealand on Saturday.
Aki was banned for three games for a high tackle in Ireland’s final pool match against Samoa, his World Cup coming to an end after the Irish Rugby Football Union decided on Thursday not to appeal the ban.
Coach Joe Schmidt named an otherwise strong side to take on the All Blacks, with Henshaw partnering Garry Ringrose in midfield.
“There are probably four or five, maybe half-a-dozen, reasonably tight selection decisions,” said Schmidt.
“You weigh up the experience, previous performances against particular opposition and combinations and you make a decision that is what you believe is the best informed you can make.
“We’ve tried to add up as best we can the combinations that will best serve us in this particular fixture.”
Hooker Rory Best will skipper the team, with Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong joining him in the front row.
Iain Henderson and James Ryan pack down at lock with Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flyer and CJ Stander in the back row.
The experienced duo of Conor Murray and World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton were named at half-back, while Rob Kearney, at fullback, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale fill the back three.
“There are a host of challenges for us,” admitted Schmidt. “The All Blacks are always raising the bar and everyone else is chasing the bar.”
Ireland have beaten New Zealand twice in their last three fixtures, but Schmidt warned his side about resting on their laurels.
“The unfortunate thing about any 23 that comes up against the All Blacks is that they can play very well and still not get a result, that’s the quality the All Blacks have, the athletes they possess,” said the Kiwi.
But Schmidt, who hands over the Irish reins to Andy Farrell post-World Cup, said his team “knows how to get up for big games”.
“They’ve had some pretty successful experiences together. There’s a number of those players within the side who’ve contributed to a fair bit of history for us,” he said, in reference to a first-ever win over New Zealand (in 2016), the tour to Australia last year, and a triumph over South Africa in Cape Town two years ago.
“The accumulation of those experiences together hopefully builds a bit of confidence because you need to have some belief.
“You can’t go out against an All Black side and accept you’re second fiddle, you’ve got to put your best foot forward.”
Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; CJ Stander, Josh van der Flyer, Peter O’Mahony; James Ryan, Iain Henderson; Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt), Cian Healy
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour