Sexton favoured over O'Gara for Ireland

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The Independent Online

Jonathan Sexton will start Ireland's clash with South Africa at Croke Park on Saturday after being preferred ahead of Ronan O'Gara at fly-half.

In a surprise move by Ireland coach Declan Kidney, Sexton has seized the number 10 jersey from O'Gara as reward for his outstanding display in Saturday's 41-6 victory over Fiji.

The last time O'Gara, who is included on the bench, was dropped was in 2003 and the Lions veteran has had a stranglehold on the position ever since.

But the composure shown by Sexton in dismantling Fiji on his Test debut has convinced Kidney he is ready to face the world and Tri-Nations champions.

It is a bold selection that rewards the 24-year-old's sparkling form since being thrust onto centre stage during the latter rounds of Leinster's march to their first Heineken Cup crown last season.

Otherwise, Kidney has kept faith with the XV that drew 20-20 with Australia in Ireland's autumn opener with Keith Earls replacing knee injury victim Luke Fitzgerald on the left wing.

Ulster's Paddy Wallace is restored at inside centre where he is preferred ahead of Gordon D'Arcy, who features among the substitutes.

Cian Healy of Leinster resumes loosehead duties after missing out against Fiji because of a shoulder injury.

Munster prop Tony Buckley supplies front row cover from a bench which sees scrum-half Peter Stringer get the nod ahead of Eoin Reddan.

Back row Denis Leamy also feature among the replacements despite suffering an ankle injury against the Fijians.

Kidney revealed Sexton's display against Fiji whetted his appetite to see more of the Leinster fly-half in action.

"I know we have a world-class fly-half in Ronan O'Gara but I thought Jonathan Sexton had a good game last weekend," he said.

"I need to find out more about Jonathan. I worked with him last year and played him in the A team.

"Ronan is disappointed but Ronan being Ronan, he's still contributing to the team this week.

"It doesn't matter that it was a difficult call, my job is to pick the team."

Kidney revealed Leamy will undergo a fitness test later in the week to confirm his place on the bench.

Ireland team to play South Africa on Saturday, November 28, at Croke Park (1430):

R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (capt) (Leinster), 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).