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Guinness PRO12 players dominate Ireland, Italy and Scotland line-ups

There’s an overwhelming Guinness PRO12 flavour about this weekend’s internationals as Scotland, Ireland and Italy all prepare for their mid-year Tests.

Scotland will face the Wallabies in what will be their first Test in Australia for five years when they head to the Allianz Stadium, in Sydney.

There will be a strong PRO12 connection in the Ireland line-up as they prepare to take on Japan in their mid-year Test at Shizuoka Stadium.

Italy will head to Suva to face Fiji on Saturday and feature 14 Guinness PRO12 players in the starting line-up.

Japan v Ireland

Ireland’s 23-man squad is filled entirely with Guinness PRO12 players as head coach Joe Schmidt makes six changes to the side that breezed past United States in New Jersey last weekend.

Leinster man Luke McGrath starts at scrum-half while Munster’s Roy Scannell, at inside centre, will play alongside brother Niall, who is deployed at hooker.

Paddy Jackson, of Ulster, replaces Joey Carberry, who sustained an ankle injury against the US Eagles, at fly-half, Munster’s Simon Zebo earns a start at full-back and Leinster flanker Dan Leavy comes in for club team-mate Josh van der Flier.

Leavy will feature alongside his provincial colleagues Rhys Ruddock, who captains Ireland for the second time, and Jack Conan, who was one of eight Irish try-scorers in New Jersey.

Joe Schmidt, Ireland head coach said his side have been struggling to adapt to the conditions in Japan.

He said: “Trying to acclimatise has been very difficult.

“We did have the advantage of playing in very hot temperatures in New Jersey last weekend but by the time we left the hotel on Sunday morning and by the time we arrived here, it was Monday night.

Australia v Scotland

Scotland’s Gregor Townsend has opted to shuffle his pack ahead of their showdown in Sydney as he makes eight changes to their victory over Italy.

Glasgow Warriors’ Jonny Gray and Edinburgh Rugby’s Hamish Watson come in at lock and in the back row respectively.

Warriors’ Lee Jones takes the place of Damien Hoyland on the wing to end a five-year absence from the national team.

Jones is joined by fellow Warrior Rory Hughes, who starts on the opposite wing in place of the injured Tim Visser.

Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson, both from the Warriors, are given a chance in the front row.

Townsend said: “It’s a game that will challenge our players in defence but we’ll also have to be very accurate in attack and aim to out-work our opposition on Saturday. Playing in the afternoon will be fantastic – you don’t often get the chance to do that in the southern hemisphere, so we can’t wait to get out there and play.”

Fiji v Italy

Italy are set to make two changes to their XV which took to the field against Scotland in Singapore, with Zebre’s Marcello Violi making his first full start for the Azzurri.

Fellow Zebre man Abraham Steyn comes in as No.8 for Conor O’Shea’s side, replacing Benetton Rugby’s Robert Barbieri.

Benetton Treviso flanker Francesco Minto will lead the national team onto the field for the first time in his career as he earns his 35th cap.

Glasgow Warriors’ Leonardo Sarto also features for the Blues on the left-wing in a line-up dominated by Zebre and Benneton stars.

Tommaso Benvenuti, of Bennetton, is the most experienced player in the squad with 43 caps.

Elsewhere

Edinburgh’s Viliame Mata will start on the bench for Fiji as they take on the Azzurri tomorrow at the ANZ National Stadium.

Mata, a Fijian gold medallist in the Rugby Sevens at the Rio Olympics, has made just one appearance for his country so far and the back-row will hope to come off the bench against the Italians.