Kidney hands flame to Sexton to light up World Cup route

Irish coach drops fly-half O'Gara and makes three injury-enforced changes

Ireland, paragons of continuity since Declan Kidney succeeded Eddie O'Sullivan as head coach in the fall-out from a destructive Six Nations Championship in 2008, yesterday found themselves being railroaded into changes ahead of this weekend's meeting with England. Yet the most significant change of all – Jonathan Sexton for Ronan O'Gara at stand-off – was purely a matter of choice. It marked a passing of the flame at No 10 and lit up the road leading to next year's World Cup in New Zealand.

O'Gara has contributed more than 500 points to the Irish cause in Six Nations rugby, but his defensive frailties against the French in Paris last time out persuaded Kidney to back the bolder, more imaginative Sexton, despite his relative inexperience. The 24-year-old Dubliner would have started the tournament but for injury and has been on the coach's World Cup radar for some time, but given the importance of Saturday's contest no one would have died of shock had the vote gone to the man with 95 caps rather than the man with three.

Kidney, who coached O'Gara to considerable heights at Munster, made three further changes to his starting line-up, summoning the Leicester full-back Geordan Murphy for the injured Rob Kearney, recalling the Ulster hooker Rory Best for the suspended Jerry Flannery and reinstalling Donncha O'Callaghan at lock. O'Callaghan replaces Leo Cullen, who drops to the bench.

Murphy's reappearance in national colours is something of a gamble. He has played precious little serious rugby since suffering a shoulder injury in September, and had the weather forecast for the weekend been a little less end-of-the-worldish, Kidney might have backed the exciting Keith Earls in the No 15 position.

Explaining his choice of Sexton over O'Gara, the coach said: "We're blessed with two great outside-halves: one with a huge amount of experience, the other up-and-coming and yet to prove himself. I see this as an opportunity to give the younger man a go." If the newcomer brings the best of his passing game to bear England could find themselves in trouble. A back division featuring runners as dangerous as Earls, Tommy Bowe, Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll has plenty going for it.

The visitors look formidably strong in the loose-forward department, too. The open-side flanker David Wallace and the No 8 Jamie Heaslip were first-choice Test picks for the British and Irish Lions in South Africa last summer, and had the blind-side specialist Stephen Ferris stayed fit, he would have found himself mixing it with the Springboks, too.

"England are always strong: they're hard to break down and don't concede many tries," Kidney remarked. Martin Johnson's team will do well to achieve one of their shut-outs on Saturday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
travel
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?