Andy Farrell has backed Test debutant James Lowe to provide an “extra dimension” for Ireland going into the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup. New Zealand-born Lowe will be thrust into Friday evening’s encounter with Wales having become eligible under residency rules after joining Leinster in 2017.
The 28-year-old, who has been named on the left wing, is one of seven changes made for the Dublin clash following the costly Guinness Six Nations defeat to France.
Head coach Farrell admits to being excited by Lowe’s potential as he seeks to increase competition among his squad.
“I think he brings an extra dimension to how we want to play,” said Farrell.
“We’ve all seen him play in the Pro14 and what he brings for Leinster, so hopefully he can definitely bring the same.
“Hopefully on top of that with a good performance at the weekend, he brings competition for places back into our squad, which is very important for us going forward.”
Lowe’s inclusion comes just over a year since he described World Rugby’s residency rules as “stupid” and “weird”, while also stating it would be an “honour” to represent Ireland.
Having established himself as a key player for his province with 33 tries in 49 appearances, he completes the back three alongside Jacob Stockdale and recent debutant Hugo Keenan.
Under-fire full-back Stockdale, who has taken on that role in the absence of the injured Jordan Larmour, is among the eight men retained, despite his unconvincing display in the Stade de France on October 31.
Farrell dismissed suggestions Stockdale must produce a vastly-improved performance to hold on to the number 15 jersey.
“No, not necessarily. Every individual is different and you treat them accordingly,” said Farrell.
“It’s only a couple of games ago that everyone was saying that Jacob is the answer.
“Obviously there a few things that he needs to put right from his last game but we think he’s a pretty important player for us and he gets the opportunity to go again.”
After hosting Wayne Pivac’s side, the Irish play World Cup finalists England at Twickenham on November 21, Georgia at the Aviva Stadium eight days later, before finishing the competition at home to one of Scotland, France, Italy or Fiji on December 5.
Leinster team-mates Jamison Gibson-Park – another player born in New Zealand – and Ronan Kelleher will make maiden Test starts at scrum-half and hooker respectively.
Back row pair Peter O’Mahony and Josh Van Der Flier have been recalled, while centre Chris Farrell is poised for a first start since last year’s surprise World Cup loss to Japan and lock Iain Henderson returns from suspension in the other personnel change.
Uncapped Ulster fly-half Billy Burns has been named among the replacements, alongside experienced scrum-half Conor Murray.
Farrell feels his selection offers a chance to experiment while remaining competitive.
“It’s a good side. It’s one I am excited about, that’s for sure,” said Farrell.
“Some people have waited for a chance to show what they are about and others have got another chance, so it’s a good blend.
“I think it’s one that can put in a performance at the weekend also.”
Munster player Farrell will join Robbie Henshaw in midfield, with captain Johnny Sexton winning his 94th cap alongside new half-back partner Gibson-Park, whose two previous international appearances came from the bench in the recent Six Nations matches.
Kelleher returns from a thigh injury in the middle of the front row to make his fourth Test appearance, in between Andrew Porter and the experienced Cian Healy.
Ulster captain Henderson, who has completed a three-week ban after being sent off for his province, resumes his second-row partnership with James Ryan, while Caelan Doris moves from blindside flanker to number eight, sandwiched between the returning O’Mahony and Van Der Flier.
The selection shake-up means regulars Rob Herring, CJ Stander, Bundee Aki and Andrew Conway each have an evening off.
“I am always curious about other guys,” replied Farrell when asked to confirm those taken out of the team had not been dropped.
“Other guys that have been waiting for a chance and we’ll see whether the wait has been good for them, that they can grab it with both hands. You have got to give people an opportunity to be able to do that.
“There are some lads that have been in the squad for quite some time who have been patient enough and we trust to perform at this level.”
Uncapped Munster centre Shane Daly, who has a knock, is the only squad member to miss out through injury.