DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will hand 21-year-old Leinster lock James Ryan his first Six Nations start on Saturday, opting for a more dynamic second row partner for Iain Henderson as Joe Schmidt’s side bids for a winning start in France.
Leinster’s Ryan, who made his international debut six months ago before he had even played a game for Leinster, started for Ireland for the first time in November and gets the nod ahead of experienced clubmate Devon Toner.
Two other players who impressed in November’s clean sweep of victories - centre Bundee Aki and winger Jacob Stockdale - also make their Six Nations bow with Josh van der Flier edging out Dan Leavy at flanker in another tight call.
“We felt he did really well against Montpelier (for Leinster) recently who are a big side and we’re really looking forward to seeing what he delivers on Saturday,” Schmidt told a news conference on Thursday.
“We want to be able to keep building in that position, it’s a position we probably don’t have huge depth in. We’ve got a few young guts pushing through that we’ve given opportunities to and James is obviously one of those.”
Ireland otherwise field an experienced side built around the halfback pairing of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray. Schmidt said another youngster, uncapped Jordan Larmour, was very close to making the bench and could feature against Italy next week.
Ireland do not have a great record in Paris, having won there only once in the last 18 years, including a narrow defeat two years ago.
However, with new France coach Jacques Brunel making some bold choices, including naming teenager Matthieu Jalibert at flyhalf, Schmidt said even the most recent performance should matter little.
“I think about a third of each team are the same as the starting 15, even in two years with those sort of changes, they do paint a very different picture and certainly the picture is very hard to see in any particular clarity,” he said.
“We know they’re going to be physical, we know they’ve got some fantastic athletes and we’re pretty sure that they’ll be organised because Jacques gets people organised pretty quickly. We’ll just try to undo them.”
15-Rob Kearney, 14-Keith Earls, 13-Robbie Henshaw, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Jacob Stockdale, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 8-CJ Stander, 7-Josh van der Flier, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 5-James Ryan, 4-Iain Henderson, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Jack McGrath, 18-John Ryan, 19-Devin Toner, 20-Dan Leavy, 21-Luke McGrath, 22-Joey Carbery, 23-Fergus McFadden.
Editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar