Ireland vs New Zealand: Sean O'Brien returns as Joe Schmidt aims for All Blacks double

It will be his first Ireland start since February 

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The Independent Online

Sean O'Brien has regained his place at openside flanker for Ireland's keenly-anticipated rematch with New Zealand in Dublin.

The 29-year-old admitted he did not "fully agree" with his omission from Ireland's historic victory over the All Blacks in Chicago on November 5.

O'Brien was left out of that game with Ireland fearing the Leinster flanker was not quite 100 per cent ready for test match intensity following long-term hamstring trouble.

Now the bullocking back-rower will start his first test since Ireland's 10-9 defeat to France in February, where his latest injury problems started.

Head coach Joe Schmidt has named an otherwise unchanged line-up from the XV that claimed the 40-29 victory over New Zealand, Ireland's first win over the All Blacks in 111 years of trying.

Josh van der Flier will cover back row from the bench, leaving no spot in the 23 for Peter O'Mahony. The Munster flanker's omission is totally understandable yet also extremely harsh for one of Ireland's most committed and trusted performers.

O'Mahony has spent the last few months stepping up his recovery after the knee ligament surgery that cut short his World Cup in 2015.

The 27-year-old was deemed not quite ready for the Chicago encounter, and has missed out once again.

The influential Conor Murray has beaten a hamstring niggle to start at scrum-half, while fit-again Iain Henderson takes a seat on the bench.

Ulster lock Henderson has been given the nod to cover lock from the replacements, with Leinster's young gun centre Garry Ringrose also squeezing onto the bench.

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen branded New Zealand the "underdogs" for Saturday's rematch - but Schmidt insisted Ireland cannot be considered favourites.

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Simon Zebo celebrates his try with Jonathan Sexton (Getty)

"You'd love to think that we're favourites wouldn't you?" said Schmidt.

"But I wouldn't suggest that Steve Hansen become a bookmaker!

"I think we're at about six to one not that we're allowed to indulge in that.

"It's a bit better than the 13 to one we were in Chicago.

"You certainly wouldn't put us as favourites.

"I think everyone is due a hiccup."

Ireland team to face New Zealand:

R Kearney (Leinster); A Trimble, J Payne (both Ulster), R Henshaw (Leinster), S Zebo (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); J McGrath (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), D Toner (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), S O'Brien, J Heaslip (both Leinster).

Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy (both Leinster), F Bealham (Connacht), I Henderson (Ulster), J Van der Flier (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), P Jackson (Ulster), G Ringrose (Leinster).

PA.

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