IRELAND'S injury jinx struck again yesterday when Jonathan Sexton was ruled out of the team to play Italy.
The out-half had been restored to the starting line-up for the first time since the loss to England in the second game of the championship, but he suffered a tear to a tendon in his foot at training yesterday morning and was subsequently ruled out.
Paddy Jackson will now win his third cap, with Ian Madigan on the bench, while Sexton is now a doubt for Leinster's Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final trip to London Wasps on April 5.
The out-half is understood to be facing between three to four weeks' rehab, which will take him right up to the eve of the Wasps clash.
This is a monumental blow to Ireland as they seek to finish the 2013 campaign on a high. And it is a huge setback for Declan Kidney as he strives to convince the IRFU he is the man to take Ireland to the 2015 World Cup.
With Sexton in the team, Conor Murray wouldn't have had to mind his out-half the way he did against France and the way he will have to tomorrow.
Murray will also have to kick far more than he would were Sexton alongside him. Ireland's plan to kick to the corners and move Italy around the field won't be as effective given Jackson's inexperience at international level and the fact that he doesn't yet possess Sexton's all-round weaponry.
Ireland are also believed to be fretting over the fitness of Donnacha Ryan, with the second-row continuing to play through the pain barrier. He suffered back spasms in the win over Wales and has been playing with a damaged shoulder since the second game against England. Devin Toner has been included in the squad at the expense of Donncha O'Callaghan.
Ireland – R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall, K Earls; P Jackson, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; M McCarthy, D Ryan; P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt). Reps: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, S Archer, D Toner, I Henderson, P Marshall, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald.