Lions link up in Irish midfield

Ireland have selected a Lions midfield for Saturday's clash with the All Blacks but it's not the one they usually put their faith in. [more]

Lions link up in Irish midfield

Ireland have selected a Lions midfield for Saturday’s clash with the All Blacks but it’s not the one they usually put their faith in.

Former Lions skipper Brian O’Driscoll starts at outside centre in his first Test since the World Cup but Gordon D’Arcy, his long-time partner with Leinster and Ireland, misses out to Munster’s Keith Earls.

O’Driscoll skippers the side having missed most of the season through a shoulder and neck problem while Earls is picked in the unfamiliar No12 shirt having previously played 15, 14, 13 and 11 since his debut in 2009.

Selecting Earls ahead of D’Arcy means breaking up the world’s most-capped centre partnership but Ireland coach Declan Kidney insists now is the right time to look forward despite the nature of the task facing them in Auckland.

“Three into two doesn’t go,” said Kidney when asked about his decision to pick Earls ahead of his more experienced rival, with Ulster’s Darren Cave on the bench.

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“This is the time to grow and see where we are in terms of everything – that’s why I have gone for that combination. Gordon is unlucky.

“It’s important that we see things. That’s why I said it’s a tour. Paddy Wallace, Gordon and Brian are continuing and will continue to give fantastic service over the next year or two, but it would be absolutely remiss of me not to look at a few things.

“We said we’d keep a small eye on the future too, and both Darren and Keith are playing well, so at what stage do you mix and match?

“It’s certainly a long way from the end for the lads who’ve been there all the time. The younger fellas deserve a little bit of a break there too from time to time.”

Kidney has made a total of six changes for the first of three Tests from the side that was beaten 30-9 by England at Twickenham in the last game of the RBS 6 Nations, with two of those alterations coming on the wings.

Simon Zebo will win his first Test cap on the left wing ahead of Andrew Trimble, while Fergus McFadden is also included out wide in place of injured Test Lion Tommy Bowe.

Ulster lock Dan Tuohy comes in for his first start instead of Donncha O’Callaghan in the second row and Peter O’Mahony replaces Stephen Ferris on the flank, while Mike Ross’ failure to recover from a hamstring injury leads to a first cap for Declan Fitzpatrick.

O’Driscoll’s recall is the sixth change for an Ireland side that is still missing 2009 Lions captain Paul O’Connell through injury.

Connacht prop Ronan Loughney could join Zebo and Fitzpatrick in making his debut after being named among the replacements thanks to Ross’ misfortune.

Ireland: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O'Driscoll (captain), Keith Earls, Simon Zebo; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick; Dan Touhy, Donnacha Ryan; Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Ronan Loughney, Donncha O'Callaghan, Kevin McLaughlin, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O'Gara, Darren Cave

NB Bold denotes Lion

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