Sexton ousts O'Gara at fly-half
November 24, 2009
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton starts at fly-half for Ireland © Getty Images
Jonathan Sexton has beaten veteran Ronan O'Gara to the Ireland No.10 jersey for their long-awaited Croke Park showdown with South Africa on Saturday.
The 24-year-old Leinster fly-half made his Test debut against Fiji last weekend and his strong showing has been rewarded with a start alongside Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary. The bulk of the side remains the same as the one which drew 20-20 with Australia two weeks ago, although Munster's Keith Earls replaces the injured Luke Fitzgerald on the wing.
Paddy Wallace returns in the centre at the expense of Gordon D'Arcy, who drops to the bench, and Donncha O'Callaghan returns to partner Paul O'Connell in the second-row. Cian Healy is fit to return at loose-head, winning his second cap after missing the hit-out against Fiji with a shoulder knock.
Denis Leamy has been named on the bench after fears for his fitness were assuaged and he is joined by his provincial team-mate Peter Stringer, who has beaten Eoin Reddan to a place as O'Leary's back-up.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has backed his decision to drop O'Gara, insisting that there was enough promise in Sexton's debut to warrant a run against stronger international opposition.
"I know we have a world-class outside half in Ronan but we have to find out things about ourselves," he said. "Jonathan had a good game last week but with respect, Fiji were short of a few so it was difficult to read. I need to find out more.
"I worked with Jonathan last year and gave him the nod for the 'A' team and that answered a lot of questions. I know we still have Ronan available. He's disappointed he's not playing but I can't pick everybody all of the time.
"Ronan is disappointed but is the perfect pro. He's taken it on the chin, has continued training and has contributed to the team exactly as he would normally. It was a difficult call but that doesn't really matter. My job is to pick Ireland team and that's what I've done."
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), P Wallace (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster); D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Buckley (Munster), L Cullen (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), P Stringer (Munster), R O'Gara (Munster), G D'Arcy (Leinster)