Joe Schmidt has warned Chicago hat-trick hero Jordan Larmour he faces a big step up in challenge when he starts at full-back for Ireland against Argentina on Saturday.
The head coach on Thursday named Larmour, 21, for the second week in a row as Ireland kick off their home Guinness Series of Test matches against the Pumas at Aviva Stadium after first-choice full-back Rob Kearney’s recovery from a shoulder injury forced him to miss some training this week.
Larmour will be looking to be build on an electric first Test start last Saturday when he scored a second-half hat-trick in the 54-7 victory over Italy at Soldier Field to build on his telling appearances as a replacement in last season’s Six Nations Grand Slam campaign and summer series win in Australia.
Starting against Argentina, though, will pose a different set of questions for the exciting Leinster back and Schmidt said: “It very much is a step up.
“He's given us confidence off the back of big Test matches where he's come into the game late. In Twickenham (against England in the Grand Slam decider) he came on in the midfield and did a really good job.
“He came on in the third Test match against Australia and did a great job coming in at full-back and acquitted himself very well last week, both at full-back and when he shifted to the left wing so that versatility, that enthusiasm, he's a ball of energy from back there.
“That gets other people energised and hopefully he can maintain that throughout the game and give Jordan some more confidence in what is building to be a really positive introduction to Test rugby so far.”
Schmidt has named a much-changed matchday squad from the one which routed Italy in Chicago last weekend with only Larmour, wing Jacob Stockdale and inside centre Bundee Aki retaining their places in the starting XV as the Ireland management recalled its senior players for this first Test of the autumn against Rugby Championship opposition.
Had he managed to be involved in the whole of this week’s preparations Kearney would most likely have been starting also but with New Zealand arriving in Dublin on Monday for their November 17 clash with Ireland, Schmidt erred on the side of caution with centre Garry Ringrose in a similar position following a bang on the hip against Italy.
“They are both doing really well,” Schmidt said of the full-back and centre. “Rob Kearney was involved in the session today and ran really well. Garry didn't train Tuesday. At a pinch he could potentially play Saturday but we don't want to go in to an Argentina Test match with a pinch.
“We want to have guys who are fully fit and ready and that gives us a little more time to make sure that Garry is able to train Monday in preparation for the following week. He just got a bang on the hip so he's just recovering from that.
“He's actually probably recovered from that mostly. At the start of the week you're trying to make sure everything is as cohesive as possible. Particularly because we had to mix two different groups and on the back of that we only trained Tuesday, getting back again Monday morning from Chicago, we only trained Tuesday, Thursday. We want to maximise the time with guys who are fully fit and available and had run already on the Tuesday and the Thursday.”
Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw and Johnny Sexton bring 182 caps of experience to the backline with Kieran Marmion given the nod at scrum-half in the continuing absence of first-choice number nine Conor Murray.
The Irish pack looks close to full-strength with captain Rory Best returning at hooker after missing the summer tour to Australia in a front row with Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong while Iain Henderson and James Ryan re-form the Six Nations-winning second row. Flanker Sean O’Brien is in line for his first Test in 12 months having earned his 51st cap against the Pumas last November before his season was disrupted by injury.
O’Brien will start at blindside in a back row with openside Peter O’Mahony and No.8 CJ Stander and Furlong said his Leinster team-mate had added “a massive amount” to the Ireland squad on his return to the fold.
“Not only from his experience but his leadership, adding a constant voice,” Furlong said. “I know he has been through a tough time with injury but it's great to see him back out there, vocal as ever with his high-pitched voice, leading us around the pitch!”