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Schmidt rings changes with Ulster trio ready for opening Test in Brisbane

By Michael Sadlier

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was thought likely to have three Ulster players - and one bound for the Kingspan next season - make his starting side to meet Australia in Saturday’s first Test.

With the indications being that Schmidt may rest several Leinster players for the Brisbane opener — due to the stresses of the province’s European and Guinness PRO14 double — the door has been opened for others to impress.

On that basis, hooker Rob Herring was believed to be in line for a fourth cap, and only second start, in place of Leinster’s Sean Cronin.

With skipper Rory Best not touring due to injury, the competition to be the starting hooker is sure to be intense, while the captaincy for the opener against the Wallabies is believed to be Munster flanker Peter O’Mahony’s with Jonathan Sexton likely to be rested.

Grand Slam winners, and Ireland regulars, Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale were expected to bring the Ulster representation up to three, with Jordi Murphy — who will play in Belfast next season after joining from Leinster — also expected to be named at openside flanker.

Munster-bound Joey Carbery, who was originally thought to be heading Ulster’s way to play out-half at the Kingspan, is expected to be the starting 10 on Saturday and, as such, will link up with new provincial team-mate Conor Murray.

Robbie Henshaw’s return to the national side, following injury during the Six Nations, was also inked in, allowing him to tog out in a powerful midfield alongside Connacht’s Bundee Aki.

The attrition from Leinster’s success in the season just gone was also expected to see props Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong stood down from the starting side with Jack McGrath and John Ryan coming in either side of Herring in an unfamiliar looking front row as Ireland bid to win their first Test series Down Under since 1979.

Ireland possible team: R Kearney; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale, J Carbery, C Murray; J McGrath, R Herring, John Ryan, I Henderson, J Ryan, P O’Mahony (capt), J Murphy, CJ Stander

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