Joe Schmidt insists Peter O’Mahony is “mad keen” and fully ready to face Japan just six days after a concussion check.
Jack Conan was meant to start Saturday’s Rugby World Cup clash against the tournament hosts in Shizuoka but picked up a foot issue in training on Thursday.
O’Mahony has therefore slotted back into the starting line-up, leaving Ireland fielding the same pack that subdued Scotland 27-3 in Yokohama last weekend.
The Munster and British & Irish Lions flanker failed a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) in Sunday’s Scotland clash, but passed all the checks afterwards, did not suffer a concussion – and returned to full training on Tuesday.
And that left head coach Schmidt insisting there is no extra risk in fielding O’Mahony against Japan.
“Pete was mad keen to play, he only played that 25 minutes and unfortunately I think we might have got Pete back out there but we had two HIAs at the same time,” said Schmidt.
“And therefore the communication was not as smooth as it normally is.
“He flew through his HIA two and HIA three which confirms to us that he didn’t have a concussion.
“The HIA process is a precautionary process, so that anyone who has a suspected concussion is removed from the field, it doesn’t mean they have had a concussion.
“So there’s no elevated risk, we don’t believe, in selecting Pete; and we’ve got a super medical staff.
“With Jack Conan, someone just stood on his foot. He is absolutely fine. But it meant that he was sore in training, he didn’t train fully.
“Again it’s a case of being confident in the squad, and offering an opportunity.”
Jack Carty will make just his second Test start. The Connacht fly-half will pilot Ireland’s backline with boss Schmidt not willing to risk Johnny Sexton, who has nursed a minor thigh issue. Joey Carbery is fit again after ankle ligament trouble and takes a seat on the bench.
Carty impressed off the bench in the closing stages of Ireland’s bonus-point win over Scotland in Yokohama, and now the eight-cap playmaker has the chance to impose his presence on this World Cup.
“Jack’s very calm, he doesn’t get ruffled easily, he doesn’t get distracted by an error he might make, or people trying to put pressure on him,” said Schmidt, of Carty.
“Johnny’s never happy about being left out, he’s always looking to play, but he had a good hit-out against Scotland, played through 55 minutes and got a bit of mileage under his belt there.
“We thought about his security off the bench but we also have a lot of time for Johnny and wanted to get him involved as well. It just means we take the pressure off Johnny this week.”
Sexton ceded goal-kicking duties to Conor Murray early in Ireland’s win over the Scots, and was withdrawn straight after his side’s bonus-point try.
The Leinster star did not train fully on Tuesday, and Schmidt has now chosen not to take any chances with the 2018 World Player of the Year.
Rob Kearney and Keith Earls return to the starting XV having missed the Pool A opener due to injury, with Ireland making four changes to their starting line-up. Kearney has shaken off his calf complaint and Earls is now over his own thigh concern.
#RWC2019— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 26, 2019
Four changes to the starting XV, the return of Rob Kearney and Keith Earls, Joey Carbery back in the 23 - there was plenty for Joe Schmidt and Rory Best to discuss at the team announcement press conference. #TeamOfUs #JPNvIRE #ShoulderToSh https://t.co/ncdI1vDLw5
While Bundee Aki also completed all the head injury checks and returned to full training, head coach Schmidt opted not to risk Connacht’s battering ram centre. So Chris Farrell starts at inside centre, with the Munster man in fine form and fettle in Japan.
Schmidt, meanwhile, has tipped Cian Healy to prove a big point against Japan after the hosts accused the Ireland prop of illegal scrummaging.
Japan prop Yusuke Kizu claimed Healy “steps out” and illegally angles in at scrummages – a suggestion that has found no favour with Ireland head coach Schmidt.
The Ireland boss insisted his team does not flout rules at scrum time, pointing to their exemplary disciplinary record at the set-piece.
And Schmidt then went on to predict that Healy will use the criticism to his advantage, with the Lions star named in Ireland’s line-up.
Asked for a response to Kizu’s comments, Schmidt said: “It’s hard to step out when you’ve got your right shoulder out and you’re nice and square.
“We’d be probably one of the – if not the – least penalised scrums in international rugby.
“Certainly what was said by Kizu was a big surprise for us, and will probably provide a bit of motivation for Cian on Saturday.”
Ireland team to play the Japan:
R Kearney (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), G Ringrose (Leinster), C Farrell (Munster), J Stockdale (Ulster), J Carty (Connacht), C Murray (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong, J Ryan (both Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), J Van Der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (both Munster), A Porter (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), R Ruddock, L McGrath (both Leinster), J Carbery (Munster), J Larmour (Leinster).
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