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DUBLIN, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Ireland bolstered their lineout and defence under the high ball by bringing back lock Devin Toner and fit-again Rob Kearney into their side to face New Zealand in Saturday’s clash of the world’s top two sides.
Two-times Six Nations Grand Slam winner Kearney, one of the game’s best defenders under a high ball, returns at fullback in place of 21-year-old Jordan Larmour, who drops back to the bench after struggling under a barrage of towering Argentinean kicks last week.
Ireland’s lineout also malfunctioned in the lacklustre 28-17 win over Argentina and coach Joe Schmidt will call on all 2.08-metres (6 foot 8 inches) of Toner to rectify that, with one of the most reliable players of his tenure coming in for Iain Henderson.
The only two other changes were enforced with Garry Ringrose, another key man returning to fitness, and Dan Leavy coming in at centre and flanker for the injured pair of Robbie Henshaw and Sean O’Brien.
Ireland, who moved up to second place in the world rankings during last season’s victorious Six Nations campaign, will be looking for only their second victory over the All Blacks that would lay down a major marker ahead of next year’s World Cup.
“It’s always an achievement to beat the All Blacks, that’s why we limit ourselves to once every 115 years because we don’t want to get carried away with things,” Schmidt, a New Zealander, joked, referring to Ireland’s 40-29 victory two years ago.
“When they first arrived (in Ireland) in 1905, they were incredibly tough to knock over and I don’t think they’ve changed too much. The depth of their experience, it is formidable and it would be a huge feather in these players’ cap if they could topple them on Saturday.”
Team: 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Keith Earls, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Jacob Stockdale, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Kieran Marmion, 8-CJ Stander, 7-Dan Leavy, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 5-James Ryan, 4-Devin Toner, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Cian Healy
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Jack McGrath, 18-Andrew Porter, 19-Iain Henderson, 20-Josh van der Flier, 21-Luke McGrath, 22-Joey Carbery, 23-Jordan Larmour. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin Editing by David Goodman and Toby Davis)