Ireland welcome back Dave Kearney for World Cup warm-up against Italy

Ireland welcome Dave Kearney back to the team after two years out for their first World Cup warm-up match against Italy on Saturday.

Ireland welcome Dave Kearney back to the team after two years out for their first World Cup warm-up match against Italy on Saturday.

Saturday’s game in Dublin presents an opportunity for players to stake their claim for a place in Joe Schmidt’s World Cup squad while the head coach appears to be trialling some new combinations with captain Rhys Ruddock joined by Jordi Murphy and Tommy O’Donnell in the back-row.

Jean Kleyn will make his international debut in the second-row and Mike Haley might also be in line for a first cap from the bench, as Ireland face their Guinness Six Nations rivals.

Ireland will be without their head coach who has returned for New Zealand for personal reasons, with assistant coach Andy Farrell set to take charge.

Meanwhile Italy’s highly-rated Marco Zanon starts in the centres after showing a glimpse of his potential when making his international debut in the Guinness Six Nations.

Veteran Tommaso Benvenuti will partner Zanon in midfield and Dublin-born fly-half Ian McKinley is named on the bench.

Italy will take confidence from the last meeting between the two sides when they ran Ireland close in a 26-16 at this year’s Championship.

What they said:

Jordi Murphy (Ireland back-rower)

“This week, he hasn’t been here, and it’s not like we’ve gone back to the drawing board and started trying to recreate everything again,” said Murphy, of Schmidt.

“It’s just been a pretty smooth transition. So the coaches know exactly what Joe wants.

“I’m sure they’ll be in constant contact and we’ll just try to move from there.

“We’ve had a pretty similar week to what we usually would any other time.

“He’s our head coach, and you just know Joe’s probably been thinking about and planning for this game for about a year.

“So I don’t think there’ll be any huge change in what we’re looking to achieve.”

Conor O’Shea (Italy head coach)

“Saturday will be a challenge. It is a very strong team that in front of its public will want to make a good performance,” said O’Shea.

“It will be a great opportunity to show off for many players who want to win a place for the World Cup.

“I look forward to seeing Italy on the pitch and part of the work we have done up until now, ”

Key battle: Carlo Canna v Joey Carbery

Joey Carbery has the unenviable task of battling Johnny Sexton for the Ireland No.10 jersey but this will present another opportunity to show what he is capable of from the off.

When Ireland beat New Zealand at the end of last year they confirmed suspicions that they might be World Cup contenders but in order to win a World Cup you need strength in depth – so there may yet be a role for Carbery to play.

His opposite number Carlo Canna finds himself in a similar position with Tommaso Allan staking his claim as first choice and McKinley waiting in the wings.

Both men will be eager to show their respective head coaches that they can do a job for their teams making their head-to-head a key factor of this match to keep a close eye on.

Stat Watch:

Ireland: 15. J Larmour, 14. A Conway, 13. G Ringrose, 12. C Farrell, 11. D Kearney; 10. J Carbery, 9. L McGrath; 1. J McGrath, 2. R Herring, 3. A Porter, 4. D Toner, 5. J Kleyn, 6. R Ruddock (c), 7. T O’Donnell, 8. J Murphy

Replacements: 16. N Scannell, 17. C Healy, 18. J Ryan, 19. I Henderson, 20. T Beirne, 21. K Marmion, 22. J Carty, 23. M Haley

Italy: 15. E Padovani, 14. A Esposito, 13. T Benvenuti, 12. M Zanon, 11. G Besigni; 10. C Canna 9. G Palazzani; 1. N Quaglio, 2. O Fabiani, 3. M Riccioni, 4. A Zanni, 5. D Budd (c), 6. G Licata, 7. M Mbanda, 8. J Tuivaiti

Replacements: 16. F Zani, 17. A Lovotti, 18. S Ferrari, 19. M Lazzardni, 20. R Giammarioli, 21. M Braley, 22. I McKinley, 23. M Minozzi