Ireland coach Declan Kidney has warned his side they have to “go for it” when they head to New Zealand next month for three Tests against the All Blacks.
Kidney has named his 29-man squad for the unenviable task of facing the world champions in their own back yard, including a trio of uncapped players in the form of Ulster prop Declan Fitzpatrick and Munster duo Mike Sherry and Simon Zebo.
Kidney also left four places in his squad available, with a second-row slot being held for Paul O’Connell as he recovers from a knee injury.
Ulster’s Chris Henry is the leading candidate to fill the back-row vacancy.
The other gaps in the party are expected to be filled by Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson and Leinster scrum-half Isaac Boss.
Eleven of Leinster’s Heineken Cup-winning squad are selected, including centre and captain Brian O’Driscoll, who missed the Six Nations after a shoulder operation and recently underwent keyhole surgery on his knee.
But there is no place for Ulster centre Paddy Wallace, while wings Tommy Bowe (kidney) and Luke Fitzgerald (neck) miss out through injury.
And while Kidney says the new faces in his squad have earned their place on the trip, he made it clear he will not be experimenting given the sheer scale of the challenge facing his side.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for them (uncapped players),” he told a press conference.
“Going to New Zealand for a three-match tour, which Ireland have never done before, will be a great learning experience.
“But they’ve had to do it on the back of results because this isn’t the place for the faint of heart.
“You don’t experiment in matches against New Zealand. It’s akin to experimenting in Heineken Cup play-off matches. You need to go for it.
“We ask (New Zealand) to play with full-strength sides when they come here so we have to honour them and do the same over there.
“The objective is to win the series, first and foremost, and to work downwards from there.
“We know the record, we have never beaten New Zealand and to beat them would be a great achievement but it would be disrespect to the jersey not to go for (the series win).”
The first Test will take place at Eden Park in Auckland on June 9, with Rugby League Park in Christchurch and Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium the other venues on June 16 and June 23 respectively.
Ireland squad for the three test summer tour to New Zealand:
Forwards: R Best (Ulster), S Cronin (Leinster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), S O’Brien (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), D Ryan (Munster), M Sherry (Munster), D Tuohy (Ulster), A.N. Other.
Backs: D Cave (Ulster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster), R Kearney (Leinster), F McFadden (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, captain), R O’Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster),