Joe Schmidt has named his team for Saturday’s Six Nations showdown against Wales in Cardiff.
The Irish boss, as expected, recalled Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien while handing Tadhg Beirne his Six Nations debut.
The Munster second row made his name as a master turnover hunter at the Scarlets, and will now lock horns with a host of former team-mates at the Principality Stadium.
The 27-year-old Beirne slots in at lock for just his fifth cap as Ireland bid to deny Wales a first Grand Slam in six years, with Iain Henderson missing out due to knee trouble.
Beirne will be partnered in the second row by James Ryan, with Quin Roux on the bench as a replacement.
O’Brien will have Munster duo Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander alongside him in the back row. Josh van der Flier had been withdrawn from the squad earlier this week with a groin injury sustained in last Sunday’s game.
Rory Best will captain from the front row in between Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong. Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray will form Ireland’s first-choice half-back partnership.
The inclusion of Rob Kearney at fullback means Jordan Larmour will be on a bench which includes three Connacht players – Roux, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) March 14, 2019
Joey Carbery misses out due to a hamstring injury so Connacht’s Carty covers fly-half from the bench.
Ireland’s centres and wingers are unchanged from last week’s game with France, while Munster duo Niall Scannell and Dave Kilcoyne complete the replacements alongside Leinster’s Andrew Porter and Jack Conan.
Schmidt backed tournament rookie Beirne to shine on his return to Welsh soil.
Schmidt said: “He probably would have liked to have had a bit more game time leading into it but it’s just a case of slotting people in. And that’s been a really positive challenge for us throughout the Six Nations, and still try to get some cohesion.
“With that combination I do think he’s as ready as we can get him to be at this stage. And I know he’s incredibly motivated to be as ready as he can be.”
Wales will be unchanged as Head coach Warren Gatland has stuck with the same match-day squad which beat Scotland for their clash in Cardiff. Victory will secure the Grand Slam for Gatland’s side.
It will be his final match in charge of Wales in the competition, with the New Zealander stepping down after this year’s World Cup.
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; T Beirne, J Ryan; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, CJ Stander.
Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, Q Roux, J Conan, K Marmion, J Carty, J Larmour.
Wales: Williams, North, J Davies, Parkes, Adams, Anscombe, G Davies, Evans, Owens, Francis, Beard, Wyn Jones (Capt), Navidi, Tipuric, Moriarty
Replacements: Dee, Smith, Lewis, Ball, Wainwright, A Davies, Biggar, Watkin