Tuesday 12 December 2017

Boost for Ireland as Sexton, O’Driscoll and Kearney fit to face All Blacks

Ruaidhri O’Connor

Ireland's walking wounded have all come through late fitness tests and have been named to start against New Zealand.

Joe Schmidt has been able to name Johnny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney in the team to face the world champions at Lansdowne Road on Sunday, while Conor Murray and Gordon D’Arcy return to the team after being left out of last week’s defeat to Australia.

All three came through training at Carton House yesterday morning and Schmidt was delighted to be able to call on them after sweating on their fitness all week.

“All three took full part in training today, Rob trained on Wednesday. They have the luxury of the conditioning work they have done over the past three weeks, so it was just about making sure they could train fully, kick fully and come through today,” he said.

“If Johnny didn’t take the pitch, Paddy Jackson would have started at No 10, we would have had confidence in Paddy but we have confidence in Johnny because of the leadership and experience he brings.”

Schmidt said Sexton’s hamstring was not as serious as first feared.

“You assess the player, the player passes the fitness test. Johnny’s discomfort was more knowing he had to leave the field,” he said of the moment the fly-half came off against Australia.

“The hamstring was really mild, but there’s always a risk. It’s about trying to manage that risk and part of that is making sure he trained fully before the game and he did that today.”

Dave Kearney starts on the wing, while Luke Fitzgerald and Isaac Boss remain on the bench where Ian Madigan remains in the No 22 jersey. It is expected that Robbie Henshaw and Paddy Jackson will remain with the squad in case any of the front-liners suffer recurrences of their injuries.

The pairing of D’Arcy and O’Driscoll together means the Leinster centres will regain their world record status for appearances together with their 52nd game together after losing it to Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

There are no changes in the pack, but Stephen Archer has been released to Munster as Declan Fitzpatrick regains his place on the bench covering Mike Ross.

Schmidt said improvement will be needed this week after last week’s defeat to Australia.

“I felt we broke the line more often than the Australians and I think people have a superficial result based on the result, we didn’t defend well and we’ve worked hard defensively this week. There is even more threats in the All Black repertoire than the Australians and we’re going to have to improve,” Schmidt said.

Tommy Bowe added to his coach's sentiments, adding:  "We know what a great opportunity we have in front of us. When you get that, it's a great chance to make history."

New Zealand earlier named a much-changed starting XV for the clash, with Cory Jane coming on to the wing, while Andrew Hore makes his final appearance at hooker alongside Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina in the front-row and Luke Romano and Steven Luatua also come into the pack.

Ireland: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Paul O’Connell (capt); Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Declan Fitzpatrick, Mike McCarthy, Kevin McLaughlin, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald.

New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore, Charlie Faumuina; Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock; Steven Luatua, Richie McCaw (capt), Kieran Read.

Replacements: Dane Coles, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty.   

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