By Simon Lewis
Joe Schmidt will start Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony at openside flanker for his 50th Test cap in Saturday’s series-decider against Australia after shuffling his options to deal with injuries.
Naming his matchday squad on Thursday for the third and final Test at Allianz Park, the Ireland head coach revealed five changes to the starting XV he sent out to level the series a week ago in Melbourne as well as four positional changes while on the replacements bench there is potential for a second Test debut on this end of season tour with the inclusion of uncapped Leinster fly-half Ross Byrne.
There are changes in every department of the team except the second row and half-backs where Devin Toner and James Ryan, and Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton retain their combinations from the 26-21 second Test win.
Otherwise, loosehead prop Jack McGrath and hooker Sean Cronin come into the front row and Jack Conan starts at No.8 with CJ Stander moving from the base of the scrum into O'Mahony's customary blindside berth and his Munster skipper moving into the number seven jersey vacated by the injured Dan Leavy.
“I thought Peter did really well over the ball last week, it's something that he's very capable of doing,” Schmidt said the O'Mahony positional switch, his first start at no.7 in 50 appearances for Ireland.
“It maintains the lineout presence that he offers, the leadership that he's brought to the team through this series. With Dan Leavy unavailable, it was probably just an opportunity for Jack Conan to get in at number eight. Once he was in at number eight and trying to maintain a bit of continuity through the spine of the team, CJ Stander shifted to six and Peter to seven.
“We were waiting to see how Dan came through the week, he's had very little time on tour out on the pitch and unfortunately, that wasn't to be.”
Leavy had missed the opening Test loss in Brisbane but injured his sternum during the second and was replaced by Jordi Murphy at half-time at AAMI Park. Ulster-bound Murphy retains his place on the bench as back-row cover.
With Iain Henderson failing to shake off a knee injury, Tadhg Beirne also keeps his place on the bench a week after his Test debut as replacement lock/flanker.
Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki return to the Ireland backline in Sydney after missing the Melbourne Test, with Andrew Conway and Garry Ringrose ruled out through injury. Six Nations player of the championship Stockdale's regaining of the left-wing berth sends Keith Earls back to the right flank while Aki resumes duties at inside centre, pushing Robbie Henshaw back to outside centre, where he started in Brisbane.
“There were a number who couldn't train on Tuesday which affected how the players would have kicked on in the starting XV,” Schmidt said. “Those ruled out, Andrew Conway is still debilitated by that hip pointer in the action of him scoring the try early in the second Test.
“Iain Henderson hasn't recovered sufficiently from the knock on the knee. Dan Leavy was unavailable and Garry Ringrose was unavailable with a foot injury.
T”hose four guys were unavailable, some other guys were patched up during the week at various times and we've got a 23 that we're pretty excited about, knowing that the Australians are going to have a super outfit as well.
“It's going to be a real Test match to decide the series.”
McGrath rotates with Cian Healy to return at loosehead, last week's starter passing fit after injuring an AC joint during the second Test while Cronin's appearance in the front row means Schmidt will start with a third different hooker this tour, last Saturday's number two Niall Scannell moving to the bench as first Test starter Rob Herring drops out of the matchday squad.
John Ryan provides tighthead prop cover in place of Andrew Porter while Kieran Marmion slots back in as scrum-half back-up at John Cooney's expense.
Announcing his squad at the same time as Ireland across the city, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika made two changes to his starting side for the sold-out final game of the series.
David Pocock moves from blindside flanker to No.8 to make way for Lukhan Tui at number six, while as expected Nick Phipps is in at scrum-half for Will Genia, who suffered a fractured arm in game two.
AUSTRALIA: I Folau; D Haylett-Petty, S Kerevi, K Beale, M Koroibete; B Foley, N Phipps; S Sio, B Paenga-Amosa, S Kepu; I Rodda, A Coleman; L Tui, M Hooper – captain, D Pocock.
Replacements: T Latu, T Robertson, T Tupou, R Simmons, N Hanigan, P Samu, J Powell, R Hodge.
IRELAND: R Kearney (Leinster); K Earls (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Stockdale (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); J McGrath (Leinster), S Cronin (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster); D Toner (Leinster), James Ryan (Leinster); CJ Stander (Munster), P O'Mahony (Munster) - captain, J Conan (Leinster).
Replacements: N Scannell (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), John Ryan (Munster), T Beirne (Scarlets), J Murphy (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), R Byrne (Leinster), J Larmour (Leinster).