But it is veteran playmaker O'Gara, a Lion in 2001, 2005 and 2009, who has been given the nod for Saturday's Test in New Plymouth as Ireland attempt to break a 105-year duck against the Kiwis.
"Ronan has been playing well over the last couple of months and I think he deserves this start," said Ireland head coach Declan Kidney.
"I've said all along we're blessed because we have Ronan who is a top-class outside half and Jonathan who is gaining experience all the time and every opportunity he's got he's taken it.
"I think Ronan is the right guy for this game. There would be a mixture of reasons for it, some of it is just a feel, some of it is experience."
Kidney makes a total of 10 changes from the side that lost out to the Barbarians at Thomond Park last Friday, with skipper Brian O'Driscoll one of the high-profile returnees.
The legendary Lions centre is joined by fellow Lions Gordon D'Arcy, Jamie Heaslip, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, David Wallace and Tommy Bowe in returning to the starting XV, while Cian Healy, Mick O'Driscoll and Tomas O'Leary are also recalled.
Connacht duo Sean Cronin and John Muldoon also start for an Ireland side missing the likes of Lions skipper Paul O'Connell and Lions tourists Stephen Ferris, Keith Earls, Luke Fitzgerald and Shane Horgan, as well as Kevin McLaughin, Jerry Flannery, Rory Best and Fergus McFadden.
"There were marginal calls to be made in several positions but that's the job of the coach to make those calls," said Kidney, who also named the uncapped Dan Tuohy and John Fogarty among his replacements.
"Whenever you pick your national team there's an onus on you to do that (pick your strongest side). All these boys are training well.
"When you're playing the number 1 ranked team in the world, the only thing you have your eyes fixed on is them, because if you take eyes off them you're going to get a thumping.
"Saturday is the reason why you get into sport - to play the best teams in the world, especially on their own home patch. We'll see how we go against them. And what happens after that will look after itself."
Ireland vs New Zealand, Saturday, New Plymouth (8.35 UK and Ireland time)
15 Rob Kearney (Leinster)
13 Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster) (captain)
12 Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster)
11 Andrew Trimble (Ulster)
10 Ronan O'Gara (Munster)
9 Tomas O'Leary (Munster)
1 Cian Healy (Leinster)
2 Sean Cronin (Connacht)
3 John Hayes (Munster)
4 Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster)
5 Mick O'Driscoll (Munster)
6 John Muldoon (Connacht)
7 David Wallace (Munster)
8 Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)
16 John Fogarty (Leinster)
17 Tony Buckley (Munster)
18 Dan Tuohy (Ulster)
19 Shane Jennings (Leinster)
20 Eoin Reddan (Leinster)
21 Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)
22 Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers)
NB bold denotes Lion