Ireland will seek their first victory of the 6 Nations Championship v Italy at Croke Park today without Cian Healy, who obtained a hamstring strain in training.
Healy made his 1st appearance of the championship from the bench in the defeat by England 2 weeks ago ago, having recovered from knee surgery. His place goes to Finlay Bealham, the uncapped loose-head prop who plays for Connacht.
Born in Canberra, Bealham, 24, moved to Ireland in 2010 and qualifies through his grandmother, from Enniskillen. He adds further southern hemisphere influence to the team, with Jared Payne recalled at centre after missing the Twickenham defeat with a hamstring injury and CJ Stander, starting at blind-side flanker.
“It’s a great opportunity for Finlay to get a taste of Test match rugby,” Simon Easterby, the forwards coach, said. “He’s impressed everyone and now he’s got an opportunity to show what he can do at the highest level.”
After the first 3 games brought a draw and two defeats which ruined hopes of a third consecutive Six Nations title, Joe Schmidt, the Ireland coach, denied that the selection was unnecessarily conservative to Italy, with Stuart McCloskey dropped for Payne after a decent debut against England.
Rory Best, the captain, advised that the players rather than the coach should bear the brunt of criticism at a time of transition, that the “real Ireland” will be seen v Italy, who are also without a win after the 36-20 defeat to Scotland in Italy 2 weeks ago.
“There has been a bit of a steep learning curve for some players,” Best said. “There are standards we expect to live by and play by, and we haven’t reached them.”
Ireland: S Zebo; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), M Ross; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander,
J Van der Flier, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, F Bealham, N White, U Dillane, R Ruddock, K Marmion, I Madigan, F McFadden.
Italy: D Odiete; L Sarto, M Campagnaro, G Garcia, M Bellini; E Padovani, G Palazzani; A Lovotti, D Giazzon, L Cittadini; G Biagi, M Fuser, F Minto,
A Zanni, S Parisse. Replacements: O Fabiani, M Zanusso, D Chistolini, Q Geldenhuys, A Steyn, A Lucchese, K Haimona, L McLean.