Furlong a natural fit to be Ireland skipper, says Farrell

Prop Tadhg Furlong was "an obvious choice" to captain Ireland this Saturday in the Autumn Nations Series Test against Fiji, said head coach Andy Farrell on Thursday.

Furlong will captain the side in what will be his 62nd Test, stepping in for Irish talisman Johnny Sexton, who is still feeling the effects of a dead leg he suffered in last Saturday's 19-16 win over world champions South Africa.

Furlong, 29, is not the first prop to captain Ireland, the last one to do so was Simon Best against Argentina in 2007.

Furlong will have a new face with him in the front row as Farrell made several changes to the starting line-up from last week's victory.

The United States-born Munster prop Jeremy Loughman, 27, will win his first cap and comes in for Andrew Porter.

Sexton suffered the dead leg in a crunching tackle by Jesse Kriel last Saturday.

With Porter and Hugo Keenan also "banged up" Farrell has got the luxury of giving them time off to be fit for the final Test of the year on Saturday week when the world's number one ranked team host Australia.

Farrell said that with Sexton's usual deputy James Ryan also requiring treatment Furlong was a natural choice to be skipper.

"We've documented quite a bit over the last period of time just how much his leadership has come on and his standing within the group, so I am a big believer in how people make people feel," Farrell told reporters.

"Not just during the week but beforehand in the dressing-room just before they go out and he becomes the obvious choice with that."

- 'Test ourselves' -

Farrell -- whose side are bidding for an 11th successive home Test win -- has named Sexton's long-time deputy Joey Carbery at fly-half.

He will be partnered by Ireland's first choice scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, who impressed against the Springboks when he came on at the end of the first-half despite it being his first competitive rugby since July.

Exciting young Ulster wing Robert Baloucoune gets his second successive start as does his province team-mate Stuart McCloskey.

McCloskey will hope to be out on the pitch for longer than last week when the centre had to go off with an arm injury in the first-half.

Jimmy O'Brien came on for McCloskey for his debut and performed well enough for him to be given a start this Saturday -- though he moves to full-back in place of Keenan.

"He's (O'Brien) been playing well for quite some time and his versatility is massive," said Farrell.

"You know, Hugo has been ever present in that position, it's good for us to find another option going forward or not."

Australia-born wing Mack Hansen, who scored one of Ireland's two tries against South Africa, also starts.

Farrell gives centre Robbie Henshaw a run out after the British & Irish Lions star had to withdraw from the Springbok match due to a hamstring issue.

Aside from Loughman, fly-half Jack Crowley and lock Cian Prendergast could also win their first caps off the replacements bench.

Fiji began their northern hemisphere tour with a creditable 28-12 defeat by Scotland last Saturday.

"The unpredictability of what's coming this weekend is something that we want to get good at managing as well," said Farrell of the Fijian challenge.

"Because the way we want to keep developing our game with our decision-making and our skill execution under pressure that unpredictability gives us a chance to test ourselves in many ways."

Team (15-1):

Jimmy O'Brien; Robert Baloucoune, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart McCloskey, Mack Hansen; Joey Carbery, Jamison Gibson-Park; Jack Conan, Nick Timoney, Caelan Doris; Tadhg Beirne, Kieran Treadwell; Tadhg Furlong (capt), Rob Herring, Jeremy Loughman

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Tom O'Toole, Cian Prendergast, Max Deegan, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Garry Ringrose

Coach: Andy Farrell (ENG)