Sparring over as big guns brace for battle

There are three changes from the starting line-up Joe Schmidt sent out against Samoa last Saturday for Ireland’s final Pool A game in Fukuoka.

Sparring over as big guns brace for battle

Ireland: Team News

There are three changes from the starting line-up Joe Schmidt sent out against Samoa last Saturday for Ireland’s final Pool A game in Fukuoka. Peter O’Mahony moves off the bench to return to his customary blindside flanker role having covered for Tadhg Beirne seven days ago. Beirne keeps his place in the matchday 23 having been named as the replacement second row.

So too Jordan Larmour, the try-scoring man of the match in the 47-5 win that secured Ireland’s place in the quarter-finals who gives the number 15 jersey back to Rob Kearney. Larmour must settle for a place on the bench as Kearney makes his third start of the tournament at full-back on his 95th Ireland appearance and looking to continue his try-scoring run of three in his last three starts, starting against Wales in Dublin on August 31.

The other change is in midfield where head coach Schmidt has been forced into a reshuffle following the three-week suspension handed down to Bundee Akifor his red card against Samoa for a high tackle on fly-half Ulupano Seuteni in the first half.

Robbie Henshaw switches from outside to inside centre to fill the vacuum, with Garry Ringrose returning to the number 13 jersey having been rested for the Samoa game after three consecutive 80-minute outings against Scotland, Japan and Russia.

Henshaw will be winning his 40th Test cap having made his tournament debut last Saturday following his recovery from a hamstring injury.

Rory Best, 37, captains the side at hooker for the 38th time in his 124th Ireland appearance and packs down with Cian Healy and Tadgh Furlong for the 17th time, a record for any front row in matches since the 2015 World Cup. It is also Best’s 15th Rugby World Cup match for Ireland, a feat bettered only by Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell (both 17).

Twelve of the starting XV also started in the 16-9 victory against the All Blacks last November. Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw both missed out through injury and Iain Henderson started on the bench.

Record Breakers

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton will start together for Ireland for the 56th time, breaking the all-time Ireland record for a half-back pairing set by Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara between 2000 and 2015. Sexton did not hold out much hope their partnership would last beyond four or five games together following a shaky start at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

“It is pretty nice when you think about it,” Murray said on Thursday. “Strings and ROG had an awful lot of games together and it’s something to be proud of later on down the road. But yeah, I’m surprised we’ve made it this far.”

New Zealand: Team News

Steve Hansen makes three changes to the starting XV which played against Namibia in the last match with captain Kieran Read returning at No.8 in place of Shannon Frizell. Richie Mo’unga is back at fly-half instead of Jordie Barrett while Beauden Barrett replaces Ben Smith at full-back.

There are also three changes from the side which started the opening pool game against arch-rivals South Africa, with a fit-again Brodie Retallick now back in the second row, and Codie Taylor starting at hooker as Dane Coles moves to the bench.

The other change comes in midfield where veteran Ryan Crotty misses out as the All Blacks bring in the Crusaders’ Jack Goodhue at outside centre alongside Anton Lienert-Brown. This will be only their third start together with the combination having debuted in the 47-26 defeat by Australia in this year’s Rugby Championship. They also started last time out against Namibia.

Remarkably for such an experienced back row, the trio of Ardie Savea (42 caps), Sam Cane (65) and captain Kieran Read (124) start together as a unit for only the fourth time. Their other three appearances at 6,7 and 8 were in the two matches against Australia this year and New Zealand’s opening Rugby World Cup 2019 fixture against South Africa.

All Change since November

Ireland will face a very different challenge to the one they overcame in Dublin 11 months ago. Not only has Steve Hansen bedded in his twin playmakers by moving Beauden Barrett to full-back and installing Richie Mo’unga at fly-half, but there has also been considerable churn to the starting XV since that 16-9 defeat to the Irish.

There are seven different players compared to that day with. Karl Tu’inukuafe, Owen Franks, Liam Squire, Rieko Ioane, Ryan Crotty, Ben Smith and Damian McKenzie all involved then but missing tomorrow.

Tighthead Nepo Laulala, fly-half Mo’unga and inside centre Anton Lienert-Brown all came on as replacements but start in Tokyo. Loosehead Joe Moody, openside flanker Sam Cane, and wings George Bridge and Sevu Reece didn’t play any part at the Aviva last November.

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