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Schmidt set to restore Kearney to 15 as Ireland face the All Blacks

There are a number of key decisions for the Ireland head coach to make with his XV.

Murray Kinsella reports from Chicago

JOE SCHMIDT IS set to name an experienced Ireland team to face New Zealand at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Saturday [KO 8pm Irish time].

Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks, with this weekend’s contest in the US offering up opportunity number 29. The Kiwis are on a run of 18 consecutive victories, and bring imposing form into this fixture, having scored 60 tries in their 10 games this year.

With Schmidt possibly looking to combine fresher faces with more tried-and-trusted figures, fullback Rob Kearney may return to the Ireland XV after missing June’s tour to South Africa.

Ireland’s Rob Kearney Billy Stickland / INPHO Kearney missed the South Africa tour with injury. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw could renew their longstanding centre partnership – which was broken up in South Africa as the Ulsterman starred at fullback – as Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray get set to steer the ship from the halfback positions.

Andrew Trimble seems likely to start on one wing for Ireland, with Simon Zebo and Craig Gilroy in a shoot-out for the other position out wide. Munster man Zebo’s aerial skill may be favoured against a New Zealand team that is ruthless under any non-contested opposition kicks.

Tadhg Furlong looks set to be handed the number three shirt, having been impressive there in the second Test against South Africa in June, with captain Rory Best to line out alongside him at scrum time.

Jack McGrath is the incumbent at loosehead and though Cian Healy’s form with Leinster has been good, he may be used as part of an impact bench.

Devin Toner is almost certain to run the lineout from the second row for Ireland, with Ultan Dillane and Donnacha Ryan competing for the second spot in what will be a tight call for Schmidt and his coaching staff.

The Connacht lock has yet to start a game for Ireland, but was completely rested last weekend as Ryan started for Munster in their win over Ulster in the Pro12 – perhaps hinting that Dillane is now ready for a starting shot.

Either way, both players offer Schmidt dynamism off the bench, while Ryan could take over the lineout calling responsibilities from Toner if required.

Joe Schmidt Billy Stickland / INPHO Schmidt has some big decisions to make. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

In the back row, vice-captain Jamie Heaslip’s influence looks likely to be important, with CJ Stander’s power possibly getting him the nod at blindside.

That would leave Jordi Murphy and Josh van der Flier in a battle for the seven shirt, with Schmidt potentially leaning towards the greater experience of the 16-times capped Murphy, who started last year’s World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

That said, van der Flier’s form for Leinster has been exceptional this season and he offers a powerful ball-carrying option.

The likes of Sean Cronin, Finlay Bealham and Joey Carbery could provide a high-tempo edge from the Ireland bench, while Schmidt must choose between Kieran Marmion and the uncapped Luke McGrath for the back-up scrum-half role.

Garry Ringrose, still a possibility to be included in the starting team, may have to settle for a bench spot, unless Schmidt opts to go with Ulster’s Gilroy – who offers pace and energy.

Schmidt is set to name his team and bench tomorrow at around 1pm local time in Chicago [6pm Irish time].

Possible Ireland team:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Andrew Trimble
13. Jared Payne
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. Ultan Dillane
6. CJ Stander
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Jamie Heaslip


16. Sean Cronin
17. Cian Healy
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Donnacha Ryan
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Kieran Marmion/Luke McGrath
22. Joey Carbery
23. Garry Ringrose

- This article was updated at 13.58 to amend a typo in Tadhg Furlong’s name, and to remove mention of Luke Marshall, who did not travel to the US with Ireland.

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