Schmidt gives Conan and Leavy first Six Nation starts

Pirate IRWIN
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Jack Conan has already scored four tries in five Ireland appearances

Jack Conan and Dan Leavy will make their first Six Nations starts after Joe Schmidt named the backrow duo in the starting XV to face Italy on Saturday at Lansdowne Road.

Conan, 25, and Leavy come in for CJ Stander -- who was outstanding in the nerve-wracking 15-13 victory over France last weekend -- and Josh van der Flier respectively, amongst four changes, all in the scrum.

"CJ Stander covered a lot of ground last weekend and it's really down to mileage in giving him a bit of a rest on the replacements bench," said Schmidt.

"It is also to reward Jack Conan as well as try and keep freshness -- these Six Nations games become attritional. This is an opportunity to freshen up the team.

"Jack brings great speed and his ability to carry the ball, plus he is very physical in defence.

"He is great at transferring the ball through contact and his lineout is improving too; there are a whole gambit of things he can bring to the party."

Stander is on the replacements bench whilst Van der Flier will play no further role in the tournament after a first-half injury in Paris ruled him out for the rest of the season.

Flanker Leavy, 23, came on for his Leinster team-mate and put in an impressive performance.

"He grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck," was Schmidt's assessment.

No.8 Conan, who like Leavy and Van der Flier plays for Leinster, will win his sixth cap. With four tries already to his name, the Italian defence will be on high alert to the dangers he can cause.

The other two changes see veteran lock Devin Toner restored to the second row alongside Iain Henderson.

James Ryan, 21, caught the eye on his Six Nations debut against the French but is rested entirely, potentially with one eye on a tougher day at the office at home to Wales in a fortnight's time.

Jack McGrath comes in for Leinster team-mate Cian Healy at prop.

Exciting young talent Jordan Larmour -- who is predominantly a fullback but can also play on the wing -- is likely to win his first cap as the 20-year-old is named on the replacements bench.

Schmidt has opted to retain his world class half-back pairing of scrum-half Conor Murray and fly-half Johnny Sexton, whose drop goal at the end of 41 phases clinched the win in dramatic style over the French.

Hoary old hooker Rory Best captains the side in what will be his 108th Test appearance for Ireland, drawing him third equal with Paul O'Connell on the all-time Irish list.

The Irish -- seen by many as the biggest threat to end England's two year dominance of the Six Nations -- will start as hot favourites against an Italy side that put up a good contest against the English last weekend before running out of steam and losing 46-15.

Team (15-1)

Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Peter O'Mahony; Devin Toner, Iain Henderson; Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt), Jack McGrath

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, CJ Stander, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour

Coach: Joe Schmidt (NZL)