Ireland not risking Sexton against Japan
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Ireland have decided not to risk mercurial flyhalf Johnny Sexton for this weekend’s World Cup Pool A clash against hosts Japan after he picked up a niggle against Scotland.
Coach Joe Schmidt has stuck with 11 of the side who crushed their Celtic rivals 27-3 in their opening game, but confirmed Thursday that Sexton would be rested to give the World Player of the Year time to fully recover from a thigh strain.
“Johnny is never happy about being left out,” said Schmidt, who has backed Jack Carty to take over the playmaking duties against Japan in Shizuoka on Saturday.
“[Sexton] got a little mileage against Scotland and we thought about bringing him off the bench, but it’s a case of being confident in the squad,” he added.
“He keeps himself in good condition and he’s a guy who can come back and hit the ground running.”
Schmidt, who hinted that Sexton could return against Russia next week, predicted that Carty would rise to the occasion.
“He’s very calm and doesn’t get ruffled easily,” said the New Zealander.
“He doesn’t get distracted by an error he might make or distracted by people trying to put pressure on him. He stays in the zone incredibly well, so that gives us a lot of confidence.”
Ireland, who have never progressed beyond the World Cup quarterfinals, will be firm favourites to beat the Japanese, who thrashed Russia 30-10 in the tournament opener.
But Schmidt insisted he would not underestimate the Brave Blossoms, who shocked the world of sport by toppling South Africa in their opening match four years ago on England’s south coast.
“I think they’re really well prepared,” he said. “They had between 180 and 200 days in camp this year and they’ve got guys who can change it up.
“I don’t think they will be intimidated by the occasion – I think they will be motivated hugely by it.”
Schmidt welcomes back fullback Rob Kearney and wing Keith Earls into the starting line-up, meanwhile, after both passed fitness tests.
Earls has scored eight World Cup tries, an Irish record, and trails only legendary centre Brian O’Driscoll in their all-time list for Test tries.
However, there is still no place in the squad for star centre Robbie Henshaw as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury.
Rory Best captains the side for the 36th time for Saturday’s game in Shizuoka, equalling fellow hooker Keith Wood.
Schmidt has also retained the pack that was so dominant against Scotland, keeping faith with a powerful second row of James Ryan and Iain Henderson backed by No.8 CJ Stander, who was voted man of the match.
Ireland, who came into the tournament as the world number one side, made light work of a disappointing Scotland to underline their title credentials in what is seen as the most wide-open World Cup ever.
However, the Irish have never won a knockout match at the World Cup and are likely to face either treble-chasing New Zealand or South Africa in the last eight.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Chris Farrell, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh Van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Tadgh Beirne, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Date: Saturday, September 28
Venue: Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Shizuoka Prefecture
Kick-off: 16.15 (07.15 GMT; 08.15 UK & Ireland time)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)