Ireland made one enforced change from the side that recorded their first ever victory over New Zealand, handing Sean O’Brien a start at flanker as they aim for two-in-row against the world champions on Saturday.
Ireland ended a 111-year drought spanning 29 Tests against the All Blacks with a superb 40-29 win in Chicago two weeks ago and return to Dublin where they were minutes away from victory the last time the sides played there in 2013.
“You certainly wouldn’t put us as favourites against a team that won 18-in-a-row against some of the best teams in the world and did it by some margin,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said, referring to the record winning streak the Irish also broke.
“I think everyone is due a hiccup. I felt we deserved to get our nose in front when we did and the players managed to protect the lead but at the same time, I don’t think they are going to afford us any headstarts this weekend.”
The injury-prone O’Brien, who played his first international since February last weekend, comes in for Leinster team-mate Jordi Murphy, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during his best performance in green in the New Zealand win.
On the other flank, CJ Stander’s commanding performances since making a man-of-the-match winning debut earlier this year meant there was no space in the 23-man matchday squad for fit-again Munster team-mate Peter O’Mahony.
Experienced Munster lock Donnacha Ryan also kept out the returning Iain Henderson as well young Connacht second row Ultan Dillane, who impressed in last week’s 52-21 win over Canada but is struggling with a sore knee.
The Ireland coach said Keith Earls was also suffering from a dead leg but both should be fit for next weekend’s November Test series finale against Australia.
Schmidt said he would not do anything massively different against his native New Zealand, who welcome back first choice locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick in a beefed-up side.
“I don’t think we have that many new tricks,” Schmidt said, replying to New Zealand coach Steve Hansen’s expectation that Ireland would have a couple up their sleeve.
“I’m pretty sure Steve himself has got a few tricks up his sleeve, a couple of boys at about 6 foot 7 are good tricks to pull out of your pocket. They were very tough to beat last time and they’ll be tougher to beat this time. We’ve got a huge respect for them, how could you not.”
Team: 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Andrew Trimble, 13-Jared Payne, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-Simon Zebo, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 8-Jamie Heaslip, 7-Sean O’Brien, 6-CJ Stander, 5-Devin Toner, 4-Donnacha Ryan, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Cian Healy, 18-Finlay Bealham, 19-Iain Henderson, 20-Josh van der Flier, 21-Kieran Marmion, 22-Paddy Jackson, 23-Garry Ringrose.