Coach Joe Schmidt says he is backing Niall Scannell’s scrummaging ability over Sean Cronin for his recall to the Ireland side for Saturday’s must-win second Test against the Wallabies in Melbourne.
Scannell earnt Schmidt’s nod among eight Irish team changes following the Six Nations champions’ 18-9 loss to the Australians in the first Brisbane Test last week.
The Munster hooker, who has not played for his country in a year after an injury-hit season, takes over from Rob Herring, who will be among the reserves with Leinster’s Cronin missing out entirely in the match-day squad.
Cronin came off the bench for Herring in Brisbane but it was a decisive late scrum penalty on Ireland’s try-line that swung the Test towards Australia in their two tries-to-nil win.
“Niall Scannell played right through Six Nations last year for us, so he’s a guy who, when he got his opportunity when Rory Best was unwell, he did a super job for us,” Schmidt told reporters after naming his team on Thursday.
“We’re giving him another opportunity to impress, he’s a good scrummaging hooker and that will add a little bit to an area where we weren’t as strong as we normally are.
“With Niall, it is a real opportunity for him to probably galvanise that pack and take a step forward at scrum time.”
After Ireland’s first defeat in 13 internationals, Schmidt is looking for a big response in Melbourne.
“We trained well on Thursday, we were a little bit flat on Tuesday as it took some players a little bit of time to find their feet,” he said.
“I’d like to think we’ve got a bit more rhythm to us.
“One of the really good things in this year’s Six Nations was I felt we built through it and I’m hoping to build through this tour.
“With Australia naming the same team, we’re very confident that they’ll come well prepared and they’ll improve their game a little bit, so we’ve got to improve that little bit more because I felt they were very good last Saturday,” Schmidt said.
Scannell, who won the last of his seven caps in Japan last year, will be making his fourth Test start and completes the new-look front row alongside Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy, while James Ryan is joined in the second row by Devin Toner.
Openside Flanker Dan Leavy also returns to the starting line-up in the back row with captain Peter O’Mahony, with CJ Stander unchanged at No.8.
“It is a good mix, but it”s also an opportunity for guys to make the most of their opportunity,” said Schmidt.
“Tadhg (Furlong) and Cian (Healy) came off the bench last week and they were disappointed they didn’t see through the positive end-game we were looking for.
“Johnny Sexton always brings organisation up front, so I know that he will be enthusiastic.”