Joe Schmidt has made 11 changes to the side who defeated Romania 44-10 ahead of Ireland’s first real World Cup test against Italy at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

A strong line-up has been named, with Ulster’s Iain Henderson making his second start of the World Cup alongside Ulster and Ireland veterans, Rory Best and Tommy Bowe. Chris Henry is the fourth Ulsterman to be included in Ireland’s plans for the Italians and makes up the back-row cover on the bench.

Connacht’s Robbie Henshaw will make his World Cup debut at inside centre with Munster’s Keith Earls joining him at outside, after an impressive man-of-the-match performance against Romania last weekend. This will be another new-look centre pairing for Ireland with Ulster’s Jared Payne ruled out by a bruised foot.

Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray return as Ireland’s half-back partnership, with Dave Kearney and Bowe completing the wings to link with Simon Zebo at full-back. Rob Kearney is missing because of a slight glute strain.

Jamie Heaslip starts at number 8 and is joined by Peter O’Mahoney and Sean O’Brien in the back row. Paul O’Connell will partner Henderson and captains the side in the second row. Mike Ross is brought in at tight-head prop and accompanies Jack McGrath and Best in the front row.

Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan, Luke Fitzgerald, Cian Healy, Nathan White, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner all join Henry on the replacements bench.

The inclusion of Earls at outside centre is a big call, but Schmidt has expressed his desire to keep the Munster man on the field after his electric two-try performance against Romania. His selection in the centre has also allowed the likes of Dave Kearney and Bowe to impress on the wing, which suggests Schmidt is going all out in terms of attacking presence.

Italy’s main man, Sergio Parisse, has been passed fit for Sunday and will be the threat from number 8. Although he has missed the opening two games of the World Cup, his influence and leadership should not be underestimated.

Sunday’s Italian clash will present a huge physical challenge up front for the Irish. The might of Italy’s pack is always a thorn in any team’s side and it shall be no different at the Olympic Park. Lock Josh Furno, who plays his rugby with Newcastle Falcons and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldin of Leicester Tigers are players who can make an impact via forward momentum. However, the strength of Henderson’s ball carrying ability will give Italy’s forwards a defensive test around the fridges!

The FRU predicts: Ireland will have to raise their game to topple a physical and accomplished Italian side, but they should have the attacking edge in the second-half, once the up front battle is won.

Simon Zebo 15 Luke Mclean
Tommy Bowe 14 Leonardo Sarto
Keith Earls 13 Michele Capagnaro
Robbie Henshaw 12 Gonzalo Garcia
Dave Kearney 11 Giovanbattista Venditti
Johnny Sexton 10 Tommaso Allan
Conor Murray 9 Edoardo Gori
Jamie Heaslip 8 Sergio Parisse (c)
Sean O’Brien 7 Simone Favaro
Peter O’Mahony 6 Francesco Minto
Paul O’Connell (c) 5 Josh Furno
Iain Henderson 4 Ouintin Geldenhuys
Mike Ross 3 Lorenzo Cittadini
Rory Best 2 Andrea Manici
Jack McGrath 1 Matias Aguero
Sean Cronin 16 Davide Giazzon
Cian Healy 17 Michele Rizzo
Nathan White 18 Dario Chistolini
Devin Toner 19 Alessandro Zanni
Chris Henry 20 Mauro Bergamasco
Eoin Reddan 21 Guglielmo Palazzani
Ian Madigan 22 Carlo Canna
Luke Fitzgerald 23 Tommaso Benvenuti

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