MAYNOOTH – Young Irish lock James Ryan has been handed a vote of confidence by being selected to play France in Paris on Saturday in what will be his Six Nations debut.
The 21-year-old, who made his Test debut last summer even before he had played for the Leinster senior team, is preferred to the veteran Devin Toner and will partner Iain Henderson in the second row.
There are great expectations for Ryan, a former Ireland Under-20 captain, with murmurings that he is destined to skipper the senior side one day.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said playing France in Paris was an ideal place to test Ryan's temperament and mettle.
“One of the reasons is to find out,” said Schmidt when asked if Ryan was ready for such a challenge. “We want to be able to keep building in that position.
“It's a position we don't have huge depth in, we've got young guys pushing through and we've given James an opportunity. We felt he went really well against Montpellier recently (for Leinster in the European Champions Cup pool clash) against what is a very big side.”
Schmidt also brought back a couple of players who missed the three Test wins last November. Keith Earls will win his 64th cap on the wing while flanker Josh van der Flier fills the considerable vacuum left by the injured British and Irish Lions star Sean O'Brien.
The side will be once again captained by the vastly-experienced hooker Rory Best who wins his 107th cap.
The world class half-back pairing of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, with almost 130 caps between them, have far more experience than their French counterparts, Maxime Machenaud, 31 caps, and 19-year-old Matthieu Jalibert who is making his debut.
Sexton took some heavy hits in Paris two years ago -- as the French won 10-9 -- which went unpunished by South African referee Jaco Peyper upsetting both Schmidt and Best.
Schmidt, though, hoped for better on Saturday.
“It hasn't been part of the game in the teams I've seen Jacques (Brunel his French counterpart) coach in the past,” said Schmidt, who is bidding to add a third Six Nations title to the ones he guided Ireland to in 2014 and 2015. I'd hope that it's not.
“I think protecting the players has been ramped up since we were involved two years ago. We hope with the referee we've got that it won't even enter into the fray,” added the 52-year-old New Zealander. The match is being officiated by Nigel Owens, the Welshman who refereed the 2015 World Cup final.
The Irish will start as warm favourites to record only their fourth win in Paris in the last 40 years as the hosts under new coach Brunel seek to end a run of six Tests without a win.
Ireland’s team to play France:
Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Peter O'Mahony; James Ryan, Iain Henderson; Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt), Cian Healy
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, John Ryan, Devin Toner, Dan Leavy, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Fergus McFadden
Coach: Joe Schmidt (NZL)