Sexton gets long awaited chance to shine
November 17, 2009
Jonathan Sexton will make his full Test debut on Saturday © Getty Images
Ireland's great hope will be unleashed on Fiji at the RDS on Saturday, with Leinster fly-half Jonathan Sexton getting his first taste of international action on familiar ground.
The youngster has been lauded as the natural successor to Munster's Ronan O'Gara and was widely praised for his ice-cool composure during Leinster's run to Heineken Cup glory in May and for inspiring Ireland A's success at this summer's Churchill Cup. The visitors to Dublin are Fiji and Sexton will no doubt have an eye on securing some involvement in Ireland's showdown with South Africa by producing a commanding display.
Sexton is partnered by his provincial team-mate Eoin Reddan at halfback and has more familiar faces outside him as Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll start in the centre. The back-three is also two-thirds Leinster as Rob Kearney and Shane Horgan are joined by Munster's Keith Earls, who is another player with a rare chance to impress.
There are several changes in the pack following last weekend's draw with Australia and Leinster skipper Leo Cullen profits to win his first cap since 2007 alongside Paul O'Connell. In the back-row Denis Leamy slots in in place of his Munster colleague David Wallace.
Fiji will be up against it against an Ireland side showing plenty of changes, but also plenty of experience. They have called Gloucester flanker Apo Satala in to the starting XV, where he joins his club team-mate Akapusi Qera in the back-row.
Nicky Little and Moses Rauluni are composed and experienced at Test level and will give the side some direction at halfback and there are two dangerous operators in the centre where Seramaia Bai and Gabriele Lovobalavu combine.
"At 24, I probably feel a bit old to be making my debut compared with guys like Luke (Fitzgerald), Rob (Kearney), Cian (Healy) and Keith (Earls). But I'm delighted," said Sexton.
"I suppose I've not been trying as hard to make things happen. I was probably trying a bit too hard at the start of last year. I just relaxed a bit. Now, I'm not sort of concentrating on mistakes and I've a more positive approach."
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster); T Court (Ulster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), L Cullen (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Leamy (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster)
Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Buckley (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster) S O'Brien (Leinster), T O'Leary (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster) A Trimble (Ulster)
Fiji: N Ligairi (Brive); V Goneva (Vaturu), G Lovobalavu (Toulon), S Baikeinuku (ASM Clermont), N Roko (Yokogawa); N Little (Bath), M Rauluni (Saracens); A Tarogi (Suva Highlanders), V Veikoso (Mavoci), V Seuseu (Korovuto), W Lewaravu (London Welsh), I Rawaqa (Fighting Bulls), A Satala (Gloucester), A Qera (Gloucester), A Boko (Tau)
Replacements: I Ledua (FTG), G Dewes (Esher), L Nakarawa (Army), S Bola (Police), W Vatuvoka (Duavata), J Matavesi (Exeter Chiefs), T Nagusa (Ulster)
Referee: Marius Jonker (SA)
Assistant referees: Carlo Damasco (Ita), Tim Hayes (Wal)
"I had a perfect record against England as did a few other Welshmen. England always seemed to bring the best out of us." John Taylor on the age-old rivalry
Are the margins between the teams in the Six Nations getting smaller year-on-year? Huw Richards gives some answers
Martin Gillingham looks at the state of play in the Top 14 and gives his take on the club versus country battle harming the prospects of the French side
Manu Tuilagi, Cockerill's psychological warfare and Saracens' brute strength - it is the Monday Maul