The inexperienced duo of Robbie Henshaw and new cap Jared Payne have been given the chance to succeed the legendary pairing of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy as Ireland’s centres by being named to start against South Africa on Saturday.
The duo, with just three caps between them as opposed to the 212 combined of O’Driscoll and D’Arcy once the former retired after beating France to win the Six Nations title earlier this year, will be up against a battle-hardened Springbok partnership of Jean de Villiers and Jan Serfontein.
De Villiers, the senior partner with 102 caps, and Serfontein, capped 16 times, are coming off a victory over the world champion All Blacks.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, probably with an eye to the future, omitted D’Arcy from the starting XV even though he returned to full training with the squad this week after recovering from a heavy knock he took in Leinster’s European Rugby Champions Cup match with Castres late last month.
Schmidt, who has been in the post since replacing Declan Kidney after the 2013 Six Nations, has been deprived of the services of 15 capped players through injury including the likes of hooker Rory Best, prop Cian Healy and flanker Sean O’Brien.
Veteran lock Paul O’Connell, no stranger to injuries down the years, will captain the side in the first of their three November Tests — the other two against Georgia on November 16 and Australia on November 22.
Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Peter O’Mahony; Paul O’Connell (capt), Devin Toner; Mike Ross, Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Dave Kilcoyne, Rodney Ah You, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Felix Jones
Coach: Joe Schmidt (NZL)