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Veteran Kearney returns for All Blacks Test

3 min

Maynooth (Ireland) (AFP)

Rob Kearney returns to the Irish starting XV for Saturday's clash with world champions New Zealand as coach Joe Schmidt opted for his experience instead of the youthful exuberance of Jordan Larmour.

The 32-year-old fullback -- who missed the 28-17 win over Argentina last Saturday with a shoulder injury -- is seen as more secure under the high balls the All Blacks are expected to pepper the Irish defence with in a clash of the top two-ranked teams in the world.

Kearney is one of four changes to the starting XV from the Pumas clash. Fellow veteran Devin Toner is recalled in the second row ahead of Iain Henderson, Dan Leavy replaces the injured Sean O'Brien at flanker and Garry Ringrose comes in at centre for the injured Rob Henshaw.

Ringrose, who missed the Argentina match due to a head injury, said he was fit and raring to go.

"It is brilliant to get the opportunity to play in a game like this," said Ringrose.

"I am aware there are certain areas we can improve upon from watching the game last weekend.

"The thing is not to get too distracted by the thought of beating them and focus on our performance on the pitch."

Schmidt, whose side are looking to extend their record home run to 11 wins, said it had been a tough call and some players had been disappointed to miss out.

"It was not easy some players who played well in the first two games have missed out but you can only name 23," said the 53-year-old New Zealander.

"There are some disappointed players but it is what it is."

Kearney, Leavy and Ringrose all started in Ireland's victory over England at Twickenham earlier this year which secured the Six Nations Grand Slam whilst 32-year-old Toner, who has played in 55 of Schmidt's 60-game reign -- the most of any player -- came on as a replacement.

Leavy did not train on Thursday but Schmidt said it was to give him some rest.

"He is just back from injury and he trained on Monday and Tuesday so we decided to rest him today," said Schmidt.

"I am not worried about him."

Kieran Marmion starts at scrum-half alongside world class fly-half Jonathan Sexton as he did against Argentina -- Schmidt having agreed with regular scrum-half Conor Murray this would be too taxing a test to make his comeback after not playing any rugby this season due to a neck injury.

The All Blacks come into the game on the back of a hard fought 16-15 win over England last weekend and with the Irish scenting they could record their first ever home win over their opponents.

The Irish -- prompted by Murray and Sexton -- beat the All Blacks for the first time in their history in Chicago two years ago although the New Zealanders avenged that in Dublin a fortnight later.

Team (15-1)

Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Jonathan Sexton, Kieran Marmion; CJ Stander, Dan Leavy, Peter O'Mahony; James Ryan, Devin Toner; Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt), Cian Healy

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour

Coach: Joe Schmidt (NZL)

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