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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 4 March 2021

Aki in for Ireland as injury takes Earls out of 'Boks clash

Uncapped Munster man Darren Sweetnam is named among the replacements.

CONNACHT’S 2016 TITLE-WINNING midfield partnership will be reunited on the international stage on Saturday with Bundee Aki selected to partner Robbie Henshaw when Ireland face South Africa on Saturday (kick-off 17.30).

Aki, 27, previously played with Counties Manukau and Super Rugby side the Chiefs in his native New Zealand before joining Pat Lam in Galway in 2014.

Aki qualifies to play for Ireland on the three-year residency rule and forms a hard-hitting midfield pairing with Henshaw, who has excelled with the extra responsibilities of the 13 shirt at Leinster this season.

Outside the Connacht alumni, a hamstring injury has denied Keith Earls the chance to continue some stellar summer form and provincial team-mates Andrew Conway (start) and uncapped former Cork county hurler Darren Sweetnam (bench) have benefitted from his misfortune.

Jacob Stockdale Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

On the left wing, Jacob Stockdale’s rise continues unabated and the 21-year-old will win his third Test cap having scored five tries in six starts for Ulster this season.

In addition to Henshaw, head coach Joe Schmidt has opted to start nine 2017 Lions in his side with Sean O’Brien joining Munster’s CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony in the back row as Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton pick up their half-back partnership where they left off in New Zealand.

Tadhg Furlong and Sean O'Brien Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Alongside Tadhg Furlong and captain Rory Best, Cian Healy is awarded a starting berth for s string of excellent performances for Leinster, and the excellence of Dave Kilcoyne ensures there is no place for Jack McGrath in the matchday squad.

Healy played in all 12 of Ireland’s Tests last season, seven as a replacement with McGrath ordinarily preferred for the bigger games. After taking the number one jersey for each of Ireland’s summer tour wins in the US and Japan, Saturday will mark a fourth straight start for Healy in Ireland colours.

“I don’t think there’s many teams across the world at the moment who have three looseheads with the destructive ability across the game; defence, attack, scrum, line-out,” said forwards coach Simon Easterby of his three formidable loosehead options this week.

“When you look at the three of them, they’re not all the best at everything, but they’re certainly pushing eachother to be right up there – in terms of world rugby – in that loosehead position.

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Joe Schmidt with Cian Healy Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We all know how important the scrum is and how important the loosehead is in terms of his scrummaging and how destructive they can be as opposed to a tighthead. The work around the pitch is invaluable and the three of them across the board have been pretty special so far this season.”

Ireland (v South Africa)

15. Rob Kearney
14. Andrew Conway
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4.  Iain Henderson
5. Devin Toner
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. CJ Stander


16. Rob Herring
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. John Ryan
19. James Ryan
20. Rhys Ruddock
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Joey Carbery
23. Darren Sweetnam

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