Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson have lost their race to be fit for Ireland's Six Nations clash with Wales this weekend. Head-coach Joe Schmidt has revealed that the Lions forwards were close to selection but he's erring on the side of caution by leaving both out of the match-day 23.
Schmidt's brought in Andrew Porter and fit again James Ryan for Henderson and Furlong. Cian Healy and CJ Stander both return to the side having been kept in reserve for the win over Italy. The only change to the backs sees Chris Farrell come in for the injured Robbie Henshaw.
Porter and Farrell will both starting in the Championship for the first time and Schmidt is focusing on their opportunity to impress, rather than the absence of Henshaw, Furlong and Henderson.
“They are world class players, you don’t suddenly replace world class players, but we’re a lot more focused on who we do have.
“We’re short on experience and we’re up against a team welcoming back three Lions while we see three disappear. So yes that’s not ideal, but at the same time, if you want to learn, what better environment than a really white-hot atmosphere in the Aviva on Saturday."
Schmidt has full faith that the debut starters Farrell and Porter will serve him well.
“You’re always questioning yourself, because you know your opponent is a very good player, you know there are circumstances you don’t control in the game, and there are going to be scenarios that come up that you’d like to think you’d be prepared for but you don’t know how you’re going to cope.
“So for a player who hasn’t been there before, yep, it’s a bit more pressure.
Ireland's Andrew Porter / INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Tight-head prop Andrew Porter gets his first Six Nations start, having replaced Tadhg Furlong early on in last Saturday's win against Italy.
Schmidt feels that performance against the Azzurri has earned Porter a starting berth.
“After just over three minutes last weekend, Andrew had to come on to replace Tadhg and did a sterling job, for 76 and a half minutes.
“So he acquitted himself really well, I know it’s not the same level; Rob Evans is a tricky customer, the angles and stepping around, all those will be really good learning experiences for Andrew Porter.
“And they’ve got to learn somewhere and this is a really good opportunity for him.
“We are ready to test the strength of our squad, we’re always ready to test the strength of our squad, and we would like to think that is as seamless as possible."
Chris Farrell at Ireland training at Carton House / INPHO/Billy Stickland
Munster centre Chris Farrell comes in for the injured Robbie Henshaw in midfield, having impressed in the Autumn Internationals.
Schmidt feels the former Ulster man showed that he's got the all round game to play at outside-centre.
“He kind of found his feet a bit against Fiji, I thought he was really good against Argentina and I think he showed there’s a bit more to Chris Farrell than a bludgeon — nice soft skills and a tight pass, he’s got a good length in his pass.
“He’s actually got pretty good kicking skills and I thought his defensive acumen on the day against an Argentinian team with the likes of Tuculet coming into the back line, just outside that midfield area, where he’s kind of in the midfield and then looking to get out to those sort of guys, I thought he closed the space down really well."