Rugby

Ireland's Robbie Henshaw replaces Bundee Aki for clash with All Blacks

AFP-JIJI

Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw will replace banned center Bundee Aki for their World Cup quarterfinal against defending champion New Zealand on Saturday.

Aki was banned for three games for a high tackle in Ireland’s final pool match against Samoa, his World Cup coming to an end after the Irish Rugby Football Union decided Thursday not to appeal the ban.

Coach Joe Schmidt named an otherwise strong side to take on the All Blacks, with Henshaw partnering Garry Ringrose in midfield.

“There are probably four or five, maybe half-a-dozen, reasonably tight selection decisions,” said Schmidt.

“You weigh up the experience, previous performances against particular opposition and combinations and you make a decision that is what you believe is the best informed you can make.

“We’ve tried to add up as best we can the combinations that will best serve us in this particular fixture.”

Hooker Rory Best will skipper the team, with Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong joining him in the front row.

Iain Henderson and James Ryan pack down at lock with Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander in the back row.

The experienced duo of Conor Murray and World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton were named at halfback, while Rob Kearney, at fullback, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale fill the back three.

“There are a host of challenges for us,” admitted Schmidt. “The All Blacks are always raising the bar and everyone else is chasing the bar.”

Ireland has beaten New Zealand twice in their last three fixtures, but Schmidt warned his side about resting on its laurels.

“The unfortunate thing about any 23 that comes up against the All Blacks is that they can play very well and still not get a result, that’s the quality the All Blacks have, the athletes they possess,” the Kiwi said.

But Schmidt, who hands over the Irish reins to Andy Farrell post-World Cup, said his team “knows how to get up for big games.”

“They’ve had some pretty successful experiences together. There’s a number of those players within the side who’ve contributed to a fair bit of history for us,” he said, in reference to a first-ever win over New Zealand (in 2016), the tour to Australia last year and a triumph over South Africa in Cape Town two years ago.

“The accumulation of those experiences together hopefully builds a bit of confidence because you need to have some belief.”

Schmidt added: “You can’t go out against an All Black side and accept you’re second fiddle, you’ve got to put your best foot forward.”

Ford dropped to bench

England coach Eddie Jones insisted flyhalf George Ford has a “significant role to play” on Thursday after he dropped him to the bench for Saturday’s World Cup quarterfinal against Australia.

Ford has been one of England’s leading players in Japan but Jones moved captain Owen Farrell from inside center to flyhalf, with Henry Slade given his first start of the tournament alongside Manu Tuilagi in midfield.

Jones, however, insisted Ford would still play a major part in Saturday’s crunch clash between the old rivals in Oita.

“George is in the 23, we have a starting team and a finishing team,” he told reporters at England’s hotel in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, on Thursday.

“I spoke to him this morning and he’s obviously disappointed, but everyone has a role in the team.

“He has got a significant role to play.”

Slade, hampered by a knee injury, has played just 40 minutes of test rugby since starting in England’s dramatic 38-38 Six Nations draw with Scotland at Twickenham in March.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5