Conor Murray to win 100th cap in Ireland’s clash with South Africa

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Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray will win his 100th Test cap in Saturday’s sold-out clash with world champions South Africa after being handed his first international start for almost a year.

The 33-year-old Munster player, who fell behind Jamison Gibson-Park in the pecking order last autumn, will become his country’s eighth centurion.

Gibson-Park only makes the bench having not played since Ireland’s summer series win in New Zealand due to a hamstring issue.

Ulster wing Robert Baloucoune has been handed a third Test cap in place of the injured James Lowe, while centre Garry Ringrose will fill the void left by Bundee Aki’s suspension in the other change made by Andy Farrell.

Flanker Josh van der Flier – Ireland’s men’s player of the year for 2022 – and full-back Hugo Keenan have each been passed fit to start following injury concerns.

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Ireland return to action as the world’s top-ranked team on the back of their stunning tour triumph over the All Blacks and will take on the Springboks for the first time in five years.

The recalled Murray, whose only international start since the 2021 Six Nations came against Argentina last November, will resume his long-standing half-back partnership with Johnny Sexton.

Captain Sexton, who won his 100th cap a year ago, said Murray merits a place on an exclusive list which also comprises Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Cian Healy, Paul O’Connell and John Hayes.

“He 100 per cent deserves to be in that small group of players, what he’s achieved in the game, the standards that he’s reached,” said Sexton, speaking on Tuesday.

“He’s been a fantastic team-mate to me, to everyone, he’s a very selfless player and will do anything for the team, whatever he’s asked, and his quality and class has always been apparent to me and the guys that have played with him.

“It would be very special because we’ve played a lot of Tests together and be great to be there on his big day.”

Ringrose will join Robbie Henshaw in midfield, with Mack Hansen switching wings from right to left to accommodate Baloucoune, who was twice capped in 2021 and faces the biggest match of his career.

Head coach Farrell has stuck with an unchanged forward pack.

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Hooker Dan Sheehan will be sandwiched between props Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong, ahead of locks James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne and a back row of Peter O’Mahony, Caelan Doris and the fit-again Van der Flier.

Gibson-Park is joined on the bench by Rob Herring, Healy, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Joey Carbery and Stuart McCloskey.

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