Ronan O'Gara starts for Ireland against Italy

Ronan O'Gara has been retained for Ireland's vital World Cup clash with Italy at Otago Stadium on Sunday.

The Lions fly-half was named man of the match in the 62-12 victory over Russia and has held off the challenge of Jonathan Sexton to remain in the number 10 jersey.

O'Gara is joined at half-back by Munster colleague Conor Murray, who has edged Eoin Reddan out of the starting line-up.

With the winner of Sunday's match progressing to the quarter-finals - and the loser returning home - punishing Italian indiscipline on the scoreboard will be crucial.

Coach Declan Kidney, however, denies O'Gara has been picked for his superior goalkicking at the World Cup.

"Ronan and Conor went well in the last 20 minutes against Australia. Ronan went well against Russia as well," said Kidney.

"This is the right combination for us against Italy. They've played a few times together now.

"Ronan has been place kicking well, but if Jonathan Sexton was starting on Sunday it wouldn't worry me.

"I'd hate to go down the road that we're picking Ronan because of his place kicking.

"He's too good a player to be saying that about him while Jonny's place kicking is not of concern to me."

After using several squad players in the nine-try demolition of Russia, Kidney has selected his strongest line-up for the pivotal match of Pool C.

Winger Tommy Bowe and lock Paul O'Connell have recovered from respective calf and hamstring injuries to take their place in the XV.

Brian O'Driscoll returns to lead a side that, apart from the half-backs, is identical to the one selected for the 15-6 victory over Australia.

Ireland could finish the group phase with three wins, including a stunning upset of the Wallabies, yet will still return home - if they fail to beat Italy.

Kidney insists he always viewed the Azzurri at the key fixture, even though outside the camp Australia was perceived to be of greater significance.

"Everyone was talking about the Australia game coming into the World Cup, but in our minds we always knew Italy was the big one," he said.

"Australia was the attractive one to win, Italy was the necessary one to win.

"The law of averages said Australia would beat Italy in the first match.

"Unless you do a New Zealand and get 15 points from your first three games, it was always going to come down to this.

"England and South Africa find themselves in the same situation - three wins from three - yet are also in cup final situations.

"If we were to go out at this stage, well that's life. The Australia win gave us momentum and that was carried on against Russia."

Ireland team to face Italy at Otago Stadium, Dunedin, on Sunday, October 2 (KO 0830BST):

R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); R O'Gara (Munster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), S O'Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), Tom Court (Ulster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster).