DUBLIN, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Ireland coach Joe Schmidt made four changes to his pack to face Italy on Saturday, bringing in a mix of youth and experience that includes handing Leinster number eight Jack Conan a Six Nations debut.
The 25-year-old Conan, who has scored four tries in five tests for his country so far, allows CJ Stander a break at the back of the scrum where he will be joined by Dan Leavy, who replaces his injured Leinster team mate Josh van der Flier.
Elsewhere in the pack, Jack McGrath swaps places with Cian Healy at loosehead prop while Devin Toner will collect his 55th cap as he returns in place of James Ryan following the 21-year-old’s own impressive championship debut in last weekend’s last gasp win in France.
Flyhalf Johnny Sexton, whose long range drop goal secured a winning start in Paris, leads an unchanged backline that will likely feature the uncapped Jordan Larmour at some point after the 20-year-old Leinster flyer was named among the replacements.
“Some of it is mileage,” Schmidt told a news conference. “CJ Stander I think had 42 cleanouts and 23 carries in Paris, which while not attritional for CJ - he’s in great shape - it’s really probably rewarding some performance from Jack Conan in recent times as well.”
“It’s also that opportunity to keep a freshness. These Six Nations games do become, if nothing else, mentally attritional. By the time we came back from Paris on Sunday evening, we had some fairly sore, tired bodies.”
Schmidt said he was delighted to get out of the opener with the points after Ireland surrendered a game-long lead with less than 10 minutes to go, but that they had to be better at building up a more commanding advantage in the weeks ahead.
“We felt that we stayed in control of that match for a long time. I think in a test match of that magnitude it only takes one lapse for a team to get back into the game and we want to make sure those lapses aren’t repeated,” Schmidt said.
“Yes there are things we need to be better at, some of our platforms didn’t quite provide what we were looking for. You don’t just want control, you want to dominate and we have to be better than that.”
15-Rob Kearney, 14-Keith Earls, 13-Robbie Henshaw, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Jacob Stockdale, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 8-Jack Conan, 7-Dan Leavy, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 5-Devin Toner, 4-Iain Henderson, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Cian Healy, 18-Andrew Porter, 19-Quinn Roux, 20-CJ Stander, 21-Kieran Marmion, 22-Joey Carbery, 23-Jordan Larmour.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Toby Davis