Six Nations 2014: Ireland No10 Johnny Sexton to start against Italy
Six Nations 2014: Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton is set to start against Italy at Aviva Stadium on Saturday
Jonathan Sexton will line-up for Ireland against Italy on Saturday despite fears over thumb ligament damage which his club thought could keep him out for between 10 days and six weeks.
The Racing Metro retains his place as head coach Joe Schmidt makes one change from the side that lost 13-10 to England at Twickenham last month.
Racing have been really good value, they understand Johnny’s a pretty important shared resource for club and country
Ulster’s Iain Henderson starts on the blindside in place of the injured Peter O’Mahony, alongside regional team-mate Chris Henry on the openside and Jamie Heaslip at number 8.
“It was a sprained thumb, he finished the game with it. There was a bit of bruising, the bruising is gone,” Schmidt said.
“There were some discussions with [Racing Metro coach] Laurent Labit who’s not in the country at the moment so time differences were a bit awkward but Racing have been really good value, they understand Johnny’s a pretty important shared resource for club and country.”
Captain Paul O’Connell again leads the side from the second row alongside Leinster giant Devin Toner with Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross in the front row.
In an unchanged backline from the matches against Wales and England, Sexton continues at outside-half alongside Munster scrum-half Conor Murray.
Leinster’s Rob Kearney continues at full-back with brother Dave on the left wing and Ulster’s Andrew Trimble on the right with Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll again operating the midfield.
The former captain will be making a record-breaking 140th Test cap in his final international at Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Ulster’s Paddy Jackson – who had been tipped to start ahead of Sexton – is on the bench along with seven Leinster players, including flanker Rhys Ruddock who takes Henderson’s place and scrum-half Eoin Reddan who replaces Leinster colleague Isaac Boss, who is rested.
Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster), Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster), Dave Kearney (Leinster); Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Munster, captain), Iain Henderson (Ulster) , Chris Henry (Ulster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)
Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster); Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster).
Italy: Luke McLean (Benetton Treviso); Angelo Esposito (Treviso), Michele Campagnaro (Treviso), Gonzalo Garcia (Zebre Rugby), Leonardo Sarto (Zebre); Luciano Orquera (Zebre), Tito Tebaldi (Ospreys); Alberto de Marchi (Treviso), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon), Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre), Marco Bortolami (Zebre), Joshua Furno (Biarritz), Paul Derbyshire (Treviso), Robert Barbieri (Treviso).
Replacements: Davide Giazzon (Zebre), Michele Rizzo (Treviso), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Antonio Pavanello (Treviso), Manoa Vosawai (Treviso); Edoardo Gori (Treviso), Tommaso Allan (Perpignan), Andrea Masi (London Wasps).