Ireland select rookie flyhalf Sexton ahead of veteran O’Gara for tough Bok clash

2009-11-25 00:00

ROOKIE flyhalf Johnny Sexton has ousted veteran Ronan O’Gara from the Irish team, which takes on the Springboks at Croke Park in Dublin on Saturday.

Irish coach Declan Kidney has made six changes to the team that dumped Fiji 41-6 at the weekend when Sexton, given a run in place of O’Gara at flyhalf, made a remarkable Test debut and has now retained his place in the starting line-up.

O’Gara, a consistent performer for Ireland down the years, will be remembered by South Africans for his nightmarish final quarter at Loftus, which helped the Springboks to their series win over the British Lions earlier this year.

Still, he was expected to return for what promises to be the toughest of Test matches against the Boks, but Kidney has opted instead for the all-round talents of Sexton, who landed six goalkicks out of seven in the most testing conditions against Fiji and was named man-of-the-match.

O’Gara will play off the bench, where he will join two other highly experienced backs in centre Gordon D’Arcy and scrumhalf Peter Stringer.

Three of Kidney’s changes to the starting line-up are in the backline with British Lion Tommy Bowe on the right wing in place of Shane Horgan, Paddy Wallace at inside centre ahead of D’Arcy and Tomas O’Leary starting at scrumhalf.

The three changes at forward see Cian Healy, over his shoulder injury, starting at loosehead, while lock Donncha O’Callaghan returns to join British Lions captain Paul O’Connell in the second row. Another British Lion, flank David Wallace is selected at openside and will battle with Bok Heinrich Brüssow at the breakdown.

Wing Keith Earls, who toured South Africa with the British Lions, believes the Boks are ripe for the plucking at the end of a long, hard year. The 22-year-old Munster player twice crossed for tries against Fiji and said he was looking forward to playing “the best team in the world”.

“The Lions tour was disappointing in the end, losing two Tests, but we know the Boks are there to be beaten. France have defeated them, so it should be a good challenge.

“We just have to relax as we did against Fiji and take it as it comes. It’s going to be good.”

While the Irish, with no serious injury concerns, have been quick to name their side, the Springboks, with eight players receiving medical attention, will only announce their 22-man squad tomorrow. Attention is centred on the composition of their front-row, their backrow and midfield, where Adrian Jacobs’s position must be under threat.

Kick-off is at 4.30 pm (SA time) on Saturday and Welshman Nigel Owens will referee the Test in front of a crowd of 82 000.

Ireland team:

15-Rob Kearney, 14-Tommy Bowe, 13-Brian O’Driscoll (captain), 12-Paddy Wallace, 11-Keith Earls, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Tomas O’Leary, 8-Jamie Heaslip, 7-David Wallace, 6-Stephen Ferris, 5-Paul O’Connell, 4-Donncha O’Callaghan, 3-John Hayes, 2-Jerry Flannery, 1-Cian Healy

Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Tony Buckley, 18-Leo Cullen, 19-Denis Leamy, 20-Peter Stringer, 21-Ronan O’Gara, 22-Gordon D’Arcy

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