Donnacha Ryan and Keith Earls will both end 29 months without Test rugby when they start Ireland’s World Cup warm-up clash against Wales in Cardiff.
The luckless Munster duo’s catalogue of injuries has kept both from Test action in the Joe Schmidt era, but now both men can state their World Cup selection case at the Millennium Stadium.
Ryan admitted he feared his Test career was already over as he battled a long-term toe injury branded “weird” by Munster boss Anthony Foley last season.
“Without being too dramatic about it yes, I did think I may not get another chance,” said Ryan.
“Pre-season is always quite tough so I’ve just got to empty the tank and it’s as much mental strength as anything.”
Lock Ryan and centre Earls will make their first Test appearances since the 22-15 defeat in Italy in March 2013, as head coach Schmidt hands fringe players the chance to impress.
Jamie Heaslip will captain Ireland on Saturday, the Leinster number eight and tighthead prop Mike Ross the only frontline stars to start against Warren Gatland’s Wales.
After this weekend Ireland take on Scotland, Wales in a return clash in Dublin and England to complete their World Cup warm-up fixtures.
Boss Schmidt must submit his final 31-man World Cup squad on August 31, leaving three matches for players to force their way into the reckoning.
Ulster centre Darren Cave has a real chance to impress at 12, in his first appearance since the November walkover against Georgia.
Veteran midfielder Gordon D’Arcy is not involved at all despite being fit for action.
Schmidt has given Ulster’s Paddy Jackson the nod at fly-half over Leinster’s Ian Madigan, with the two facing a potential shoot-out over the last World Cup playmaking berth.
Powerful lock Ryan missed the bulk of last season with a toe injury branded “weird” by Munster boss Anthony Foley.
Now the 31-year-old is finally fully fit, and despite his lengthy Test absence still has a realistic chance of forcing his way into Ireland’s final World Cup ranks.
Earls has battled a string of knee and groin problems since his last Ireland foray, and his versatility could work in his favour given the compact nature of World Cup squads.