Ireland suffer huge blow ahead of France clash
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Ireland’s talismanic captain Johnny Sexton will miss this weekend’s Six Nations clash with France in Paris due to a hamstring injury, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) said on Thursday.
The 36-year-old declared himself fit earlier in the week despite taking some heavy hits in the opening 29-7 victory over defending champions Wales last Saturday.
“I am gutted for Johnny as it means so much for him to captain the side,” said head coach Andy Farrell at his press conference prior to flying to France.
“However, he realises too that this is a chance for the group to grow. He will still travel with us and contribute as much as he can from the sidelines.”
Joey Carbery, who has only himself returned to action recently, steps in for Sexton at flyhalf for his first Six Nations start.
He will partner scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park.
Carbery has impressed since he returned to the Test fold, steering them over the line against New Zealand last November – after Sexton went off injured – and then started in the hammering of Argentina a week later.
“He will be a leader in himself Joey,” said Farrell.
“It is a funny one for me to answer [Carbery being up to it] this is not just about Joey and can he handle a big game in Paris.
“It is about us as a group, that is what Johnny does, he makes sure the group is where it should be.
“It is not just about the No.10 and his direction of the team as far as I am concerned.”
Sexton’s Leinster teammate second-row forward James Ryan replaces him as captain as has been the case in the past couple of years when he has been injured.
“It is great for us that we grow as a group and this is all part of the journey,” said Farrell.
“He [Ryan] has captained them a good few times and now he and us will get to know more about ourselves.”
Aside from Sexton’s absence head coach Andy Farrell has selected the same starting line-up that dominated Wales.
The other personnel changes sees the recall of fit again British and Irish Lions duo lock Iain Henderson and centre Robbie Henshaw onto the replacements bench.
Jack Carty fills Carbery’s spot on the bench.
Ireland head to Paris seeking their 10th successive Test victory, although the vibrant French have beaten them in their last two meetings.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 James Ryan (captain), 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Andrew Porter, 1 Ronan Kelleher.
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
Date: Saturday, February 12
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 17.45 (16.45 UK & Ireland time; 16.45 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)