JAMIE HEASLIP WILL celebrate his 51st Irish cap by leading Declan Kidney’s men against South Africa this weekend.
In the absence of injured Leinster team-mate Brian O’Driscoll, Heaslip captains a squad which includes four uncapped players for Saturday’s Guinness Series test in Dublin.
One of the four, South-African born Richardt Strauss, will be surrounded by familiar faces as he makes his debut against his native Springboks. Hooking against his cousin Adriaan, Strauss is joined in the Irish front row by Leinster team-mates Cian Healy and Mike Ross.
Connacht’s Mike McCarthy is given the nod to partner Donncha Ryan in the second row, replacing the injured Paul O’Connell. O’Connell was a late withdrawal from the squad on Wednesday after he was ruled out with a back injury picked up in training.
Munster flanker Peter O’Mahony and Ulster’s Chris Henry are named at six and seven, joining skipper Heaslip in a dynamic back row.
“Jamie is — even though he’d probably deny it — he’s a consummate professional,” Kidney said at today’s squad announcement in Carton House.
“When he turns up for work he’s really zeroed in and I think that’s a good place to start, in leading players by example.
“I think he has done well by Leinster and he’s been in the group for four, five, six years now so he’s fully aware of what’s needed to win a test match and I think that experience will help in the match.”
With European Player of the Year Rob Kearney sidelined until after Christmas, Kidney’s solution is a back-line shuffle which sees Simon Zebo start at full-back and Keith Earls and Gordon D’Arcy link up in midfield.
Asked how he is managing the loss of some of the country’s most talented senior players, Kidney said that he always knew this day would come.
“When you lose players of their experience, it’s always a hurdle to be overcome. But I think that’s why we’ve been building a squad over the last couple of years anyway because this day was always going to come.
“That’s why we’ve been calling the players we’ve been calling into camp over the past two years, because you need to be planning for the future and we’re in that future now that we’ve been planning for for the last two years.”
Ulster duo Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble start on the wings while at half-back, there are no surprises in Kidney’s decision to pair Conor Murray with Jonathan Sexton.
New Zealand-born prop Michael Bent is named among the pack replacements as are Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne and young Ulster lock Iain Henderson, all of whom could taste their first international action on Saturday evening.
Ireland (v South Africa): Simon Zebo; Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Jonny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross; Donncha Ryan, Mike McCarthy; Peter O’Mahony, Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip (c).
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Michael Bent, Donnacha O’Callaghan, Iain Henderson, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Fergus McFadden.