Bundee Aki set for Ireland debut as Schmidt faces big calls ahead of South Africa

The head coach has decisions to make in a number of positions.

The Ireland team will be named at lunchtime today.
The Ireland team will be named at lunchtime today.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

ALL WEEK, THE talk around Carton House has been of this being a new-look Ireland squad but Joe Schmidt is tasked with achieving the right mix of consistency and experimentation over this month’s three-game series.

With a World Cup coming into sharp focus, Schmidt is beginning to shape his squad around plans for Japan 2019 and his selections have certainly indicated as much with four uncapped players in his November panel.

Adam Byrne, Bundee Aki, Chris Farrell and Darren Sweetnam all received call-ups for the first time while the likes of Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale are experiencing a full squad gathering for the first time having won debut caps during the summer tour.

Of the new faces, Aki is the only one in the running to feature this weekend against the Springboks with Schmidt fully aware of the need to hit the ground running in what should be the sternest examination of the month.

The games against Fiji and, to a certain degree, Argentina will allow more scope for testing new combinations and exploring the depth of the squad, with this November window traditionally the most opportune time to introduce players to the international set-up.

While squad development will be one of the things Schmidt will want to get out of these three games, there is also the need to start the season well and build up momentum ahead of the Six Nations.

Including the famous victory in Chicago, Ireland won three out of their four Autumn Tests 12 months ago and there is an expectation that they will record a clean sweep this year.

To do so, they will need to click into gear from the off against a battle-hardened Springbok side who arrive in Dublin searching for positive results and consistency in performance to end an otherwise mixed year on the right foot.

Schmidt, therefore, is set to turn to his tried and tested where possible and the team he names at lunchtime today isn’t expected to contain any major surprises with a number of injury concerns reducing the head coach’s hand.

Bundee Aki Bundee Aki is in line to make his debut. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Aki is set to renew his midfield partnership with former Connacht team-mate Robbie Henshaw — who will operate at 13 — while the other big call in the backline will see Stockdale named on the left wing for what will be his home debut.

The 21-year-old Ulster winger impressed during the summer tour and has continued his impressive form into this season with the northern province, scoring five tries in seven appearances.

Stockdale is likely to be joined in the back three by the in-form Keith Earls and Rob Kearney, who has proved his fitness following the hamstring injury which had one point looked set to rule him out of contention for this series.

It means Joey Carbery, outstanding in the opening weeks of the season for Leinster at fullback, will have to settle for a place among the replacements as Schmidt opts for the more-experienced option. The 22-year-old will likely cover a number of positions off the bench.

Up front, the big decision comes at loosehead with Jack McGrath and Cian Healy pushing hard for inclusion, just like they have at Leinster this term. The latter could get the nod given his performances in blue in recent weeks suggest he is returning to some of his best form.

The rest of the pack pretty much picks itself with injuries to Jack Conan, Dan Leavy and Tommy O’Donnell earlier in the week making the back-row selection picture a lot clearer.

On the presumption of full fitness, the Lions trio of Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander will start with Rhys Ruddock set to provide the back-row back-up from the bench.

Schmidt will announce his team to face South Africa at 1.45pm today.

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Possible Ireland XV:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
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. Devin Toner
5. Iain Henderson
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. CJ Stander.


16. Rob Herring
17. Jack McGrath
18. John Ryan
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Rhys Ruddock
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Joey Carbery
23. Andrew Conway

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Ryan Bailey

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