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Joe Schmidt has retained only three players from the side that demolished Canada in their opening round of the World Cup. Ulster’s Jared Payne, Munster’s Keith Earls and Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip are the only recognisable faces within the starting line-up to face Romania at Wembley on Sunday.

It will be the oldest starting XV in World Cup history, with an average of 29 years and 245 days bringing a wealth of experience to the game, which sees many players rested for the two crunch Pool D clashes against Italy and France yet to come.

Ulster’s Chris Henry, Darren Cave and Tommy Bowe are all given the opportunity to impress before the starting XV are nailed into place, with Cave pairing Payne in the centre for a midfield dominated by Ulstermen.

Elsewhere, Heaslip will take over the captaincy from Paul O’Connell, who sits this one out. Jordi Murphy is one of four debutants to feature and takes his role at blind-side next to Henry at open-side flanker.

Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan are the second-row to replace Ulster’s Iain Henderson and O’Connell, while loosehead Cian Healy makes his first start since March. The Leinster man is joined by Nathan White and another debutant in Richardt Strauss.

Leinster’s Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan are the half-back pairing, with Earls and Bowe making up the wings and Zebo taking his place at full-back.

O’Connell, Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien, Conor Murray and Rob Kearney are the replacements, while Ulster’s Paddy Jackson and Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong await their first World Cup appearance from the bench.

Many have been anticipating the inclusion of Robbie Henshaw in a starting World Cup squad, but given the Connacht man’s recovery from a hamstring strain, Schmidt looks to have made the right precautionary call in saving his powerhouse centre for future games.

This Sunday’s clash at Wembley should be nothing more than a day out for the Irish side. It has presented Schmidt with the opportunity to try out combinations, while also making sure there are back-up players ready and fit for if and when injury strikes to the first choice crop.

The performances of Cave and Payne as the centre pairing will be an interesting watch, given the recent doubts over Henshaw’s fitness and questions surrounding Luke Fitzgerald’s form. If they combine well, another option may arise as we enter into the latter stages of the tournament.

Romania will stay committed throughout the game but should not pose a threat to Ireland’s strength. It is likely to be a straight-forward win, with questions surrounding the scoreline instead of the result. However, Romania have a ferocious pack with all of their talent coming from up-front, so this will be the area of contest if there is to be one.

A chance for Ireland to build confidence and momentum in their 2nd XV ahead of their final pool challenge and decider, France at the Millennium.

The FRU predicts: Ireland possess the power, precision and pace to comfortably overturn this dedicated Romanian outfit.

Simon Zebo 15 Catalin Fercu
Tommy Bowe 14 Adrian Apostol
Jared Payne 13 Paula Kinikinilau
Darren Cave 12 Csaba Gal
Keith Earls 11 Ionut Botezatu
Ian Madigan 10 Michael Wiringi
Eoin Reddan 9 Valentin Calafeteanu
Cian Healy 1 Andrei Ursache
Richardt Strauss 2 Andrei Radoi
Nathan White 3 Paulica Ion
Donnacha Ryan 4 Valentin Poparlan
Devin Toner 5 Ovidiu Tonita
Jordi Murphy 6 Viorel Lucaci
Chris Henry 7 Mihai Macovei (c)
Jamie Heaslip 8 Daniel Carpo
Sean Cronin 16 Otar Turashvili
Jack McGrath 17 Mihaita Lazar
Tadhg Furlong 18 Alexandru Tarus
Paul O’Connell 19 Johannes van Heerden
Sean O’Brien 20 Stelian Burcea
Conor Murray 21 Florin Surugiu
Paddy Jackson 22 Florin Ionita
Rob Kearney 23 Florin Vlaicu

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