Jamie Heaslip to lead experimental Ireland against Wales
Head coach Joe Schmidt to look for fringe players to impress at the Millennium Stadium ahead of squad cut next week
Jamie Heaslip will become Ireland’s most-capped back-row forward when he leads Ireland into battle against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
The Leinster skipper and number eight will be joined in the starting XV by club team-mate Mike Ross, who will his 50th cap, as head coach Joe Schmidt explores his options ahead of the Rugby World Cup with as many as seven players expected to be cut next week.
While Wales boss Warren Gatland has named four debutants in his starting XV, hooker Richardt Strauss is Ireland’s least experienced senior international in the side with six caps to his name as competition to make the Rugby World Cup squad intensifies.
A number of senior players, including talismans Paul O’Connell and Johnny Sexton, are rested ahead of matches later this month against Scotland and Wales in Dublin and England at Twickenham, while Leinster quintet Cian Healy, Luke Fizgerald, Marty Moore, Sean Cronin and Rhys Ruddock are among the players nursing injuries.
Winning his 10th cap, Ulster’s Paddy Jackson will get a chance to cement his place as Sexton’s understudy with a rare start at outside-half alongside experienced scrum-half Eoin Reddan.
With the O’Driscoll-D’Arcy era long consigned to history and YouTube tribute videos, a new-look backline will see Munster’s Keith Earls – whose last Test appearance came against Italy in the 2013 Six Nations – line up at outside centre with Ulster’s Darren Cave inside him.
Ulster wing Andrew Trimble will make his long-awaited return from injury to start on the right wing with Leinster’s Fergus McFadden on the left wing and Felix Jones at full-back.
Up front, an all-Leinster front row will see loosehead prop Jack McGrath join Strauss and Ross with Ulster’s Iain Henderson partnering Munster’s Donnacha Ryan, who makes his first international start for over two years, in the second row.
Heaslip will be joined in the back row by club team-mate Jordi Murphy, who starts at blindside flanker with Munster’s Tommy O’Donnell at openside.
Highlighting Ireland’s strength in depth, the bench features Ulster captain and hooker Rory Best, Ulster flanker Chris Henry, Munster winger Simon Zebo and Ireland out-half/centre Ian Madigan.
Wales: Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons); Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Tyler Morgan (Dragons), Scott Williams (Scarlets, captain), Eli Walker (Ospreys); James Hook (Gloucester Rugby), Mike Phillips (Racing 92); Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Richard Hibbard (Gloucester), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Dominic Day (Bath Rugby), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Dan Baker (Ospreys).
Replacements: Kristian Dacey (Blues), Rob Evans (Scarlets), Scott Andrews (Blues), James King (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Dragons); Lloyd Williams (Blues), Gareth Anscombe (Blues), Matthew Morgan (Bristol Rugby).
Ireland: Felix Jones (Munster); Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Keith Earls (Munster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster); Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster, captain).
Replacements Rory Best (Ulster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Michael Bent (Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster); Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Simon Zebo (Munster).