Ireland v Australia: Joe Schmidt hands Paul O’Connell captaincy

Ireland v Australia: Joe Schmidt hands Paul O'Connell the captaincy for the clash against the Wallabies at Aviva Stadium

paul o'connell
Paul O'Connell has 85 Ireland caps Photo: e_mulvey, via Flickr

Paul O’Connell returns to captain the Ireland side against Australia on Saturday after head coach Joe Schmidt made six changes to the side that defeated Samoa last weekend.

O’Connell, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien all come into the starting XV, having emerged off the replacements bench in the 40-9 victory last weekend.

Elsewhere, Jonny Sexton returns to the starting line-up in place of Paddy Jackson to make his first Ireland appearance since the Six Nations, while Luke Marshall is preferred to Gordon D’Arcy at inside centre.

O’Connell was part of the British & Irish Lions squad that defeated Australia over the summer, playing the first Test in Brisbane before he was ruled out of the rest of the tour with a broken arm.

The Wallabies have undergone considerable changes since then however, not least with Ewen McKenzie replacing Robbie Deans as head coach.

And 34-year-old O’Connell is expecting a different proposition altogether.

“They are certainly a better team and they have a different philosophy,” Schmidt said.

“(Quade) Cooper has been brought back in and has been given the opportunity to play the way he wants to play.

“Australia are coming off a really tough Rugby Championship and when you have tough championship like that you tend to find out a lot more about yourself and you tend to get better.

“I think it’s going to be really tough in the scrum, I don’t think it’s going to be anything like the third test against the Lions.”

In the final change made by Schmidt, Eoin Reddan comes in at scrum-half to replace Conor Murray but the head coach was at pains to point out it was always part of the plan to give them one start each in Ireland’s first two autumn matches.

“It’s less of a head off more of in place of,” said Schmidt. “Conor started last week and Eoin is starting this week and has an opportunity to put his hand up.

“I think Conor did well last week there was nothing the matter with his game. It’s just we have come into this autumn series with the mindset that we are going to try and grow the squad.

“We want to grow the starting XV. I am happy with Conor but it is about giving an opportunity. Everyone has been great. Conor has been working away helping Eoin prepare as best as he can.”

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