Jonathan Sexton has urged new-look Ireland to seize the chance to establish the next golden generation of international stars.
The Irish head into today's Guinness Series opener against South Africa at Aviva Stadium without their injured Lions captains, Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell. Seasoned campaigners Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney, Rory Best and Sean O'Brien have also been lost to the treatment room.
Robbed of six key personnel, Ireland face seemingly insurmountable odds even if a run of three wins in four Tests against the Springboks is encouraging. But rather than wilting before the challenge awaiting, Sexton has demanded his team-mates begin the process of transforming themselves into household names.
"We have to believe that we're good enough," said the Leinster fly-half. "We're obviously missing a lot of very good players throughout the team, but at some stage of their careers those guys that we're missing would have been the new kids on the block. It's time now for us to step up and start building the type of reputations those guys have."
Little has gone Ireland's way as they seek to end a sequence of successive Test defeats dating back to England in the final match of the Six Nations in March. Completing the run was the summer whitewash by New Zealand, who inflicted a humiliating 60-0 rout upon an Irish team that, just a week earlier, had been on the brink of a first ever victory over the All Blacks. Beating South Africa would ease the anguish of that result in June and Sexton insists the experience could yet prove useful.
"We took a lot of positives from the first Test and then learned a lot from the second," he said. "In that third Test we made three mistakes and were 21-0 down, then we were chasing the game, which is very dangerous when you're playing the All Blacks. They picked us off and we've learnt from that if we ever go behind again, we'll never chase it that hard."
The losses in personnel have forced coach Declan Kidney to select a much changed side. Leinster's South African-born hooker Richardt Strauss makes his debut – he will line-up opposite his cousin Adriaan – while lock Mike McCarthy and flankers Peter O'Mahony and Chris Henry have 13 caps between them. Simon Zebo starts at full-back in his second Test appearance, while Keith Earls has replaced O'Driscoll.
The changes also extend to the captaincy with Sexton losing out to his Leinster colleague Jamie Heaslip, who will lead the team for the first time.
15 S Zebo, 14 T Bowe, 13 K Earls, 12 G D'Arcy, 11 A Trimble, 10 J Sexton, 9 C Murray; 1 C Healy, 2 R Strauss, 3 M Ross, 4 M McCarthy, 5 D Ryan, 6 P O'Mahony, 7 C Henry, 8 J Heaslip (capt).
15 Z Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 J Taute, 12 J de Villiers (capt), 11 F Hougaard, 10 P Lambie, 9 R Pienaar; 1 T Mtawarira, 2 A Strauss, 3 J du Plessis, 4 E Etzebeth, 5 J Kruger, 6 F Louw, 7 W Alberts, 8 D Vermeulen.Reuse content