Sexton and Leavy return as Ireland aim to level series

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Ireland Rugby Squad Announcement
Melbourne , Australia - 14 June 2018; Head coach Joe Schmidt speaks to the media during an Ireland rugby press conference in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Johnny Sexton returns as Joe Schmidt makes eight changes to his starting line up that is looking to bounce back following their first Test loss of the season in Brisbane last Saturday.

Reshuffled Backline

Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray and Keith Earls all keep their starting spot with Earls moving to the 11 jersey in place of Jacob Stockdale. This allows for the inclusion of Munster flier, Andrew Conway in the 14 jersey. Conway’s relationship with Conor Murray at scrum-half could be a key factor in Ireland leveling the series. His ability to win possession and pressurize opposition defenses from the Murray box kick will certainly aid Ireland in breaking down the unrelenting and physical Aussie defense. The second Test also sees the return of Garry Ringrose in the infamous 13 jersey, with Henshaw moving to inside center and Bundee Aki missing out on the match-day 23 completely. The inclusion of Conway and Ringrose will add a much needed attacking dimension to the Irish squad who will hope to register some tries if they are to defeat this Wallabies side.

Johnny Sexton also comes into the back line, taking the reigns from Joey Carbery, who drops to the bench. Sexton was impressive off the bench last week, exploiting a number of gaps in the Aussie defense and will hope that his relationship with Conor Murray can get this Ireland squad over the line.

Dangerous Pack

Cian Healy – who will win his 80th cap – and Tadhg Furlong have been promoted from the bench, while the surprising introduction of Niall Scannell in the number 2 jersey see’s Rob Herring drop to the bench. As expected, Dan Leavy reclaims his spot in the starting pack in the hope that he can counteract the Hooper/Pocock combination. The hugely impressive Tadhg Beirne is in line to make his Test debut off the bench, while Devin Toner also reclaims his spot in the starting pack, combining with James Ryan, with both Roux and Henderson missing out on the 23.

With Leavy starting, this may allow the likes of CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony, who captains the side, to have more effective games both at the breakdown and in the loose. Nonetheless, the battle of the backrows is set to be an intriguing battle yet again.

The Aerial Game

Last weekend, the Wallabies unquestionably won the battle of the aerial game. Sublime kicks from both Beale and Foley allowed Folau to get the better of both Stockdale and Kearney in the air, something that doesn’t happen too often. Ireland, on the contrary, had very little return from their kicking game. When this happens they are usually on the wrong end of the result. Kearney will certainly be looking to amend his mistakes from last week with a more dominant and confident performance. The inclusion of Conway is a gamble from Schmidt, one he obviously hopes will pay off. Conway has the ability to contest almost every box kick he is asked to chase, but the question is if it will be enough to disrupt the seemingly unflappable Israel Folau. There are also question marks around his defense, and whether or not he will be able to deal with the physicality that both Koroibete and Haylett-Petty will bring. The immense tackle that Jacob Stockdale made on Koroibete last weekend springs to mind. If it was Conway in the position, would he have been able to force the lethal Aussie winger into touch? However, it’s worth giving him the benefit of the doubt after a heroic defensive effort for Munster against Toulon in the Champions Cup Quarter-Final.

John Cooney, Jordan Larmour, Andrew Porter, Jordi Murphy and Jack McGrath make up the rest of the bench.

Michael Cheika has named an unchanged side for what could be a series winning victory this Saturday in Melbourne.

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