Schmidt takes Sexton risk

2013-11-22 17:03
Jonathan Sexton (File)

Maynooth - Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has named Johnny Sexton on Friday in his starting line-up for Sunday's one-off international with world champions New Zealand despite the fly-half having struggled with a hamstring injury all week.

The 28-year-old, who had to go off at half-time of last Saturday's 32-15 defeat by Australia, was one of three key backs who had been considered doubtful for the game.

However, both talismanic centre Brian O'Driscoll and fullback Rob Kearney appear also to have got over their respective calf and rib injuries -- Kearney's brother Dave is also named on the wing for his first start for the national side.

He replaces Fergus McFadden, who fractured a bone in his hand in the Wallabies defeat, while another change in the back division sees Ulster centre Luke Marshall drop out of not only the starting XV but also the squad completely.

He is replaced by the vastly-experienced Gordon D'Arcy, who wins his 75th cap.

British and Irish Lions scrum-half Conor Murray regains his starting place at the expense of Eoin Reddan, who like Marshall doesn't figure in the 23, as New Zealand-born Isaac Boss comes into the replacements.

Schmidt, who was appointed to the post following the sacking of Declan Kidney after a disappointing Six Nations campaign earlier this year, said that Sexton had come through a full training session, proving his fitness beyond doubt.

He also said that he had not been contacted by Sexton's French club Racing-Metro regarding his condition or expressing fears about him playing.

"Johnny's angst when he pulled up last Saturday was more him realising he would have to come off than it being that serious a hamstring injury," said the 48-year-old New Zealand-born coach.

"They (Racing-Metro) have not been in touch with me and I haven't been in touch with them over the fact he has played 13 games for them in a very short space of time.

"Is it a risk? Well it is a risk even for a fully fit player.

"Part of the answer in managing a risk is for the player to go through a full training session and Johnny did that today (Friday)."

Schmidt, who got the job on the back of guiding Irish province Leinster to two European Cup successes, said he had again opted to have Ian Madigan on the replacements bench instead of Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson.

That decision was taken despite the coach having admitted last Saturday the Irish were rudderless in the second half once Madigan -- who had rarely played at fly-half this season -- replaced Sexton.

"Ian just gives us cover in more positions. Nothing against Paddy who really impressed against Samoa (a 40-9 win a fortnight ago) but we have confidence in Johnny's leadership and balance he brings to the side in what has been a far from ideal week."

The task facing the Irish is an enormous one as they are yet to beat he All Blacks and the world champions are bidding to become the first team in the professional era to win all their Tests in a calendar year.

Schmidt, though, said his side could not be dismissed as so many people have done during the week.

"This is a terrific group of guys who I have every faith in and if we avoid our defensive lapses from last week we can match them," he said.

"It is a huge challenge but I always stick to the principle that in a two horse race anyone can win it."



15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.

Substitutes: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Kevin McLaughlin, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23  Luke Fitzgerald

New Zealand:

15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett

Substitutes: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty

Read more on:    jonathan sexton  |  rugby

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