Ireland coach Joe Schmidt says he has full belief in his much-changed team for Saturday’s crunch final Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth.
The New Zealander has made six personnel changes and one positional switch to his starting XV for the series decider against the Springboks as Ireland bring their long campaign to a close.
Jared Payne has been ruled out with a calf injury, while Robbie Henshaw previously left the squad with a knee problem. Back in come Keith Earls, Mike Ross and Jordi Murphy, who had been rested, while CJ Stander returns after serving his one-match ban.
Payne’s injury means a first start for Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran, while Ulster pair Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall partner up in the centre.
The absence of Payne and Henshaw is a big blow to Schmidt, but he insists he has full confidence in his troops.
“I’m utterly confident that they’ll make me and themselves proud,” he said.
“They’ll make sure that Ireland feel proud of them because that’s the way they commit to going about their work and I’ve no doubt that they’ll be no different than it has been in the last two Tests.
“Yes, it’s been a long season, people are tired and that’s going to maybe detract from people being at their optimum but, at the same time, I don’t think too many people will detect that because what they don’t have in fresh reserves of energy, they’ll make up for it with the full commitment they make to doing the job that they do.”
The inclusion of Matt Healy and Eoin Reddan on Ireland’s bench means that all of the travelling party will have had some involvement in the match-day squads during the three-Test series.
“There’s a few that were rested last weekend and come back in,” Schmidt said.
“One of the things that we wanted to do was to involve as many as players as possible on tour. It means that everybody will have been in a match-day 23 and I think that’s exciting for the players that have come away.
“We have 32 players, obviously with Robbie Henshaw heading back we have 31 still available to us.
“Jared Payne has still got a bit of tightness in his calf. We’re just not prepared to risk further injury if we put him out there.
“So, at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for Tiernan O’Halloran and for Matt Healy to come in on the bench.
“You couldn’t get a more exciting opportunity than being over here in a Test decider to stop up and be involved in your first start or you first opportunity off the bench.”
Saturday’s game will bring Reddan’s career to a close as the scrum-half confirmed his retirement from rugby before the team was announced.
The Limerick native has had a stellar career, winning European Cups with Wasps and Leinster and amassing 70 caps for his country, winning two Six Nations titles.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with Eoin for the last six years,” Schmidt said.
“He’s been a part of the leadership group through those six years either in Leinster or in the Irish set-up, he brings a real intelligence to the game and a real competitive edge as well.
“I think his ability to get the basics there right have allowed him to be incredibly efficient as a scrum-half and that’s what you want when you’re in a pivotal position like that, and his intelligence around the game, his ability to be driving the forwards, respected by the forwards, has been really beneficial.
“It’s something that the teams around him have benefited from for the six years that I’ve been involved with him and obviously prior to that, where he had real success with Wasps and with Ireland before I was involved.”
Winger Keith Earls also hailed his fellow-Limerickman’s career.
“He had a phenomenal work-rate. He was always pushing others to get to the standards that he played with and played in.
“At times, when he came off the bench, you could feel the intensity going up and that’s what he brings.”