Paddy Jackson and Jared Payne grab key Ireland roles as Ulster's finest get set for South Africa battle
When Joe Schmidt revealed his side that will face the Springboks, Jared Payne's name was the first one read.
With Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo missing, Ulster's naturalised Kiwi - who has won all 14 of his caps as an outside centre - will slot in at full-back for the first Test in Cape Town tomorrow (4pm).
There were plenty of calls for the 30-year-old to wear the 15 jersey during the Six Nations but, to this point, Schmidt had resisted the temptation to deploy the former Auckland Blue in the position where he has played the majority of his rugby for Ulster.
Schmidt yesterday described his other options, Tiernan O'Halloran and Robbie Henshaw, as "jaded" after their Pro12 heroics with Connacht.
"We thought about two other options, Tiernan O'Halloran, who had a very good end of the season, and we thought about Robbie (Henshaw) going back there but, to be honest, those two were a little bit jaded last week," he said.
"Tiernan came in a little bit later and Robbie was pretty fatigued, he's had the biggest mileage during the season of any of the Irish players and we just felt it was a good opportunity last week to give him a little bit of time to catch his breath.
"Therefore, it was a little bit easier for Jared to run in, he was a little bit fresher but we feel reasonably confident with any of those three.
"We just felt that Jared, with his experience and freshness, was the reasoning for the decision we made."
Payne is one of a six-strong Ulster contingent in the starting line-up with Paddy Jackson, as expected, filling in for the injured Johnny Sexton at fly-half.
Two years on from his last cap, Luke Marshall comes in at inside centre with Andrew Trimble retaining his place on the right wing. Rory Best captains the side from hooker while Iain Henderson starts in the second-row.
Craig Gilroy, who was not in the original squad but was drafted in when Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney suffered injuries, will be on the bench having not appeared for Ireland since November of 2014.
On Jackson's return to the international stage, Schmidt added: "He's slotted in really well.
"He's bided his time, he's been in camp a lot when Johnny's been in camp so he's seen Johnny kind of dictating the game.
"He (Johnny) has been the conductor of the orchestra and we're confident that Paddy can step up and do a similar job. He's got big boots to fill, but I think his feet will slide in quite nicely."
Sitting by his coach's side, Jackson echoed the sentiment.
"I know I'm stepping into big shoes like Joe said and I've been around long enough to know how things work and I've had a chance to step back and see how Joe and Johnny orchestrate things," the 24-year-old said.
"I've been waiting for a chance and now I've got it. I'm really looking forward to it, it's exciting times for me.
"I'm delighted to get the start. It's been a while. Like I said, I've been waiting for this chance and I'm so grateful it's come, it's just a great opportunity.
"Since I was a kid, I've always wanted to put on that green jersey so this is another chance.
"It's all well having a decent season with the province, it's a big step up so I will take confidence from that, but also there's going to be nerves and excitement," he said.
"It's a new challenge and it's international rugby now so it's a completely different ball game. From that point of view, I'm looking forward to testing myself in that environment."
There will only be one debutant in new Boks coach Allister Coetzee's first starting line-up.
With Ulster's Ruan Pienaar unavailable, and Fourie du Preez retired, Faf de Klerk will make his international bow as the starting nine while hooker Bongi Mbonambi will be hoping for a first cap off the bench.