Andy Farrell says his Irish test team are facing the “biggest match of their lives” after selecting five inexpensive players to face the Maori All Blacks.
Leinster’s Ciaran Frawley will start at half-fly, with fellow regional Jimmy O’Brien at line-back in a team led by New Zealand midfielder Bondi Aki.
Other internationals included in the Monster Championship include Jeremy Logman, Lock Leinster Joe McCarthy, and Connect’s release, Sian Prendergast.
Wednesday’s game in Hamilton marks the start of Ireland’s summer tour, with the first of three Tests against New Zealand taking place on Saturday in Auckland.
The Irish will also play the Maori team for the second time on July 12 in Wellington.
Speaking about the significance of the opening round, coach Farrell said: “It’s huge. It’s all for these players who are on the pitch on Wednesday, it’s the biggest game of their lives. It’s.
“I know there’s a series of three games coming but those two games are Maori for us and what we’re trying to build and how we’re trying to put people under pressure and see how they progress, that’s just as important.
“If I can say it that way, I think that really says it all.”
Farrell’s plans for the All Blacks were a hit with Ulster Lock Iain Henderson being excluded from the entire series due to a knee problem that continued with training.
The injury also kept him away from prostitute Rob Herring in the first two matches of the tour, while winger Mack Hansen is currently unavailable after contracting with Covid-19.
“We have one case and we could have a few more by the end of the week, we don’t know,” Farrell said.
“That’s the way of the world, isn’t it? The motto of the tour is definitely adaptability.”
New Zealand’s plans have been hit hard by the coronavirus.
Head coach Ian Foster and his assistants John Plumtree and Scott McLeod have been forced to isolate after positive tests, as well as centers David Haveley and Jack Goodhue.
Former Ireland manager Joe Schmidt has been called in to help prepare the All Blacks for the weekend’s clash at Eden Park, with the disruption likely to prevent Farrell from catching up with his predecessor.
“I’m not sure it’s head on – I’m sure my (Foster) win will be somewhere,” Farrell said of facing Schmidt.
“Joe just helps with being an extra pair of hands and I’m sure he fits right into the system.
“I’m supposed to meet him for coffee on Thursday – I don’t know if that’s out of the question now.
“What can he bring? He’s getting into a system he probably doesn’t know either. It’s not his system.”
“I’m sure he only brings his individual experience and gives advice to coaches and that’s very deep, so I’m sure they will all try to learn something from him.”
Native Kiwi Aki is one of only three players to have made more than six caps in Ireland’s first game in 15th, along with Jordan Larmore (30) and Keith Earls (96).
Wings Larmour and Earls will line up for newcomer O’Brien, while Aki will pair with James Hume in midfield and Frawley will form a half-back partnership with Craig Casey.
Hooker Dave Heffernan, who has played six Test matches, is the most experienced international player in a forward package that contains only 17 caps combined.
He will be joined in front row by free-headed Logman and Tom O’Toole, with McCarthy partner Kieran Treadwell in the locking positions, and Gavin Coombs in the middle of the back row, between Prendergast and open part Nick Timoney.
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