Ireland have made eleven changes for their crucial Pool A decider versus Samoa on Saturday at the World Cup. Joe Schmidt’s side defeated Russia in their last outing in Kobe with a largely second-string selection, but he has now recalled most of his big guns for a match in Fukuoka that Ireland must win with a bonus point to guarantee their place in the quarter-finals.
Among the 11 changes is the first taste of World Cup 2019 for Robbie Henshaw whose participation in the tournament was threatened by a hamstring injury suffered on the training ground eight days before Ireland opened the finals with a comprehensive win over Scotland.
The midfielder also sat out the subsequent shock loss to host nation Japan and the scratchy winning performance versus the Russians, but he is now in line to play his first match since the September 7 warm-up win in Dublin over Wales.
Henshaw is one of four changes in the backline to face the Samoans. Jordan Larmour comes in at full-back for Rob Kearney, whom coach Schmidt insisted was almost ready for selection.
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Keith Earls switches to right wing to accommodate Jacob Stockdale’s recall on the left, with Andrew Conway dropping to the bench, while Conor Murray returns at scrum-half in place of benched Luke McGrath to partner Johnny Sexton.
The pack shows near wholesale changes from the last outing with only Tadhg Beirne keeping his place, albeit with a positional switch. He moves from the second row to blindside in a back row that also features Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander.
The Irish front five is along expected lines with Cian Healy, skipper Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong comprising a front row backed up by locks Iain Henderson and James Ryan.
Typhoon Hagibis could cause the other Pool A clash, Scotland against Japan, to be cancelled on Sunday. That would leave Ireland unable to top the group but still capable of quarter-final qualification.
Schmidt insisted Ireland must treat this week as normal, with a doubtless physical clash with Samoa ahead. “Rob ran in training Thursday but was a little bit slow to pick up in the week, as was Peter O’Mahony and Rhys Ruddock,” he said.
“We’re not really having too many conversations with World Rugby, for us it’s business as usual. There is a distraction, there was a lot of talk among the players at training today but we can’t let that affect us.
“Any time anything is unknown you get players who are going to talk about it. But we’ve got to make sure the game gets finished with the right result for us.”
Samoa, meanwhile, have made two changes to the starting XV which played against Japan. Prop Logovii Mulipola replaces Jordan Lay at loosehead. Lay moves to the bench where he replaces his brother James. Second row Teofilo Paulo comes in for Piula Faasalele, who also moves to the bench.
IRELAND: J Larmour; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, T Furlong, I Henderson, James Ryan, T Beirne, J van der Flier, CJ Stander. Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, J Kleyn, P O’Mahony, L McGrath, J Carbery, A Conway.
SAMOA: Tim Nanai-Williams; Ah See Tuala, Alapati Leiua, Henry Taefu, Ed Fidow; Ulupano Seuteni, Dwayne Polataivao; Logovii Mulipola, Seilala Lam, Michael Alaalatoa, Teofilo Paulo, Kane Le’aupepe, Chris Vui, TJ Ioane, Jack Lam (capt). Replacements: Ray Niuia, Paul Alo-Emile, Jordan Lay, Piula Faasalele, Josh Tyrell, Pele Cowley, Tusi Pisi, Kieron Fonotia.
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