A full-strength Ireland side led by Paul O'Connell will return to winning ways against Canada at the Milennium Stadium on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Six Nations champions come into this World Cup having lost their last two matches, against Wales in Dublin and England at Twickenham. However, they did win their first two warm-up Tests, against Wales in Cardiff and Scotland in Dublin, which saw them briefly move to No 2 in the world rankings. While they have since fallen to sixth, the Irish remain favourites to top Pool D, which includes France, Italy, Romania and Canada.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will be pleased to start the campaign with a match against the Canadians, who are ranked 18th in the world and have lost six of their seven Tests this year. Canada did beat Georgia 16-15 in a World Cup warm-up match earlier this month, but then lost 47-18 to Fiji. They have also been beaten by Japan, Tonga, Samoa and the USA (twice) in 2015.
Ireland and Canada have met just six times in Test rugby since 1987, with the former winning five and the latter earning a draw on Canadian soil in 2000. The Irish will win again on Saturday, of that there is no doubt, but Schmidt will want his side to win big and make an early statement.
Schmidt has named a full-strength lineup for this clash, with Rob Kearney returning at fullback and prop Cian Healy, who was passed fit this week, on the bench. Keith Earls will start on the left wing, with Tommy Bowe, whose missed tackle resulted in a try for England's Jonny May two weeks ago, falling out of the match 23.
Meanwhile, Canada have selected their oldest starting XV for a World Cup match – an average of 29 years and 164 days – with 37-year-old captain Jamie Cudmore set to play in his fourth global showpiece.
O'CONNELL'S STATS THAT MATTER
111 – Tests played (104 for Ireland, seven for the Lions)
25 – Tests as Ireland captain
14 – Test wins as Ireland captain
8 – Test tries for Ireland
HEAD TO HEAD
Ireland 5, Draw 1
Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Nathan White, 19 Donnacha Ryan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Simon Zebo.
Canada – 15 Matt Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Nick Blevins, 11 DTH Van der Merwe, 10 Nathan Hirayama, 9 Gordon McRorie, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 7 John Moonlight, 6 Kyle Gilmour, 5 Jamie Cudmore (c), 4 Brett Beukeboom, 3 Doug Wooldridge, 2 Ray Barkwill, 1 Hubert Buydens.
Subs: 16 Benoit Piffero, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Andrew Tiedemann, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Richard Thorpe, 21 Phil Mack, 22 Liam Underwood, Conor Trainor.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)