After much debate this week as to what Andy Farrell would do ahead of their third round game against Italy in the Guinness Six Nations Championship, the Irish boss dealt his hand on Friday.
Several expected changes, six in total, the two main talking points being including Joey Carbery at out half in spite of captain and talismanic Jonathan Sexton being fit again after a hamstring injury; and uncapped Ulster fullback, Mike Lowry given the start in Dublin against the Azzurri.
Being the middle round of the competition it was the perfect opportunity for Farrell to once again show the culture change in the Irish camp – and confirm that he does have next year’s World Cup in France in his mind.
Still very much in the running for the title in spite of the narrow loss to the French two weeks ago, Farrell saw enough from players’ performances with Provinces and was confident enough to present opportunities to others that would deliver a must have five match point winning scoreline.
Of the other changes, two of which were enforced, James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, Dan Sheehan, Ryan Baird and Peter O’Mahony all come in.
Fleet-footed Lowry trained with Ireland last summer and has starred for his province in the United Rugby Championship and Heineken Champions Cup.
“Regarding Michael Lowry, we’re all excited to see him get his chance,” said Farrell. “He deserves it.”
Lowe’s return comes after missing the previous games to injury, although Farrell could have opted to give Robert Baloucoune a run on the wing if he was in the mood for making changes.
Pint-sized Lowry has impressed in the Ulster jersey and this will be a huge opportunity for him to prove some of his doubters wrong. The spotlight will certainly be on him.
Ireland v Italy Fact File
Meanwhile, Italy head coach Kieran Crowley has made three changes for the meeting with Ireland in Dublin.
The Azzurri seek to end a run of 34 consecutive defeats in the tournament following their 33-0 loss to England in round two.
Pierre Bruno will make his Six Nations debut on the right wing, while centre Leonardo Marin has been handed his maiden championship start, with Giovanni Pettinelli coming in at blindside flanker.
Crowley said: “We have prepared for the next meeting by focusing on the aspects of the game that did not satisfy us in the first two games.
“We face the next commitment with energy and the desire to improve. It will be a physically tough match against one of the strongest teams in the world.“
IRELAND: M Lowry (Ulster), M Hansen (Connacht), G Ringrose (Leinster), R Henshaw (Leinster), J Lowe (Leinster), J Carbery (Munster), J Gibson-Park (Leinster); A Porter (Leinster), D Sheehan (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), R Baird (Leinster), P O’Mahony (Munster, capt), J Van Der Flier (Leinster), C Doris (Leinster). Replacements: R Herring (Ulster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), F Bealham (Connacht), K Treadwell (Ulster), J Conan (Leinster), C Casey (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), J Hume (Ulster).
ITALY: E Padovani (Benetton), P Bruno (Zebre), J I Brex (Benetton), L Marin (Benetton), M Ioane (Benetton); P Garbisi (Montpellier), S Varney (Gloucester), D Fischetti (Zebre), G Lucchesi (Benetton), P Ceccarelli (Brive), N Cannone (Benetton), F Ruzza (Benetton), G Pettinelli (Benetton), M Lamaro (Benetton, capt), T Halafihi (Benetton). Replacements: E Faiva (Benetton), I Nemer (Benetton), T Pasquali (Benetton), D Sisi (Zebre), M Zuliani (Benetton), B Steyn (Benetton), A Fusco (Zebre), M Zanon (Benetton).