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Ulstermen to be well represented for test against Springboks

 

By Nick Purewal

Ireland captain Rory Best will be joined by two of his fellow Ulstermen as Joe Schmidt's men prepare to lock horns with South Africa tomorrow.

As expected, Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson will start against the Springboks for the first of the Autumn Internationals at the Aviva Stadium.

However, Keith Earls could miss Ireland's entire autumn campaign due to a hamstring injury.

Munster wing Earls suffered the blow in training on Tuesday and has been ruled out of the opener.

Andrew Conway has stepped up to start in Earls' place to face the Springboks, with Darren Sweetnam primed for his Test debut off the bench.

New Zealand-born Bundee Aki will also make his Ireland bow, forging a formidable centre pairing with Robbie Henshaw.

"Keith picked up the injury on Tuesday, and it was a surprise to him and us," said Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt.

"It's a hamstring injury, and I think it's going to make it certainly a struggle for next week, and potentially the week after.

"We're disappointed and so is he; he was sensational for us in Japan in the summer.

"He's the consummate professional, a class player, that rapid acceleration.

"But what a fantastic chance for Andrew Conway and Darren Sweetnam."

Ulster rising star Stockdale will start on the wing, with Cian Healy starting at loosehead prop as Jack McGrath continues to shake off a hip problem.

Connacht centre Aki has qualified for Ireland after completing the three-year residency period, having moved to Galway in 2014 from Super Rugby outfit the Chiefs.

The powerful centre with Samoan parents has come under fire in some quarters this week over his decision to chase Test representation with Ireland but now head coach Schmidt has hit back.

"It's never irrelevant," said Schmidt of Aki's background.

"But sometimes where you're born is less relevant than where you're invested over the last period of time.

"I think Bundee has invested incredibly well in the west.

"They have benefited from his commitment, his ability and his durability. He's just doing what he loves doing and what he's good at."

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