Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points ahead of Saturday’s clash.
Sexton’s final year in professional rugby has already been a wild rollercoaster ride. The fly-half sustained a cheekbone injury on New Year’s Day but returned to lead Ireland to a Six Nations Grand Slam. The joy of achieving that feat on home soil for the first time was tempered by him suffering a season-ending groin injury, which denied him a Leinster farewell and was later compounded by a three-match ban for his “confrontational and aggressive” behaviour towards referee Jaco Peyper. Sexton subsequently missed Ireland’s World Cup warm-up fixtures. The 38-year-old is “delighted to be back” and dreaming of going all the way.
Room for improvement
Ireland stretched their winning run to a national-record 13 matches with warm-up victories over Italy, England and Samoa last month. Nevertheless, Farrell’s men were far from their free-flowing best in those outings and, according to the head coach, a little clunky. Players put up for media this week repeatedly spoke of the need for improvement as well as their hopes of laying down a marker. Ireland have won their last nine meetings with Romania. Those triumphs include World Cup victories in 1999, 2003 and 2015 – each by remarkably similar scorelines: 44-14, 45-17 and 44-10 respectively.
The curious case of Mack Hansen
Farrell’s strong selection had one notable absentee: Mack Hansen. The Australia-born wing has been virtually ever-present for Ireland since his debut in last year’s Six Nations. Yet, while the rest of Ireland’s first-choice stars made the matchday squad, he was excluded, despite being fit. Farrell sparked speculation about the situation with cryptic comments in which he said some members of his squad did not handle off-field distractions very well when his team were based in Biarritz for their final warm-up game against Samoa in nearby Bayonne. Assistant coach Mike Catt dismissed suggestions Hansen had been dropped due to an internal disciplinary issue.
Baking hot Bordeaux
Ireland and Romania are poised to run out in front of a capacity-crowd of approximately 42,000 in heat of around 35 degrees Celsius. The blistering conditions will no doubt have an impact on proceedings. Yet Ireland feel primed. Training camps in Portugal and Biarritz last month provided players with exposure to warm weather, while they have trained in similar temperatures this week at their base in Tours. Vice-captain James Ryan said: “I like to think we’ve gotten maybe more used to the heat. But you can’t hide from it. It’s probably going to be the hottest part of the day. But it can’t be an excuse.”
Opportunity knocks for Joe McCarthy
Farrell’s opening line-up suggests a statement win is very much in his mind. Rookie lock Joe McCarthy is an eye-catching exception. The towering 22-year-old is the least-experienced international in Ireland’s 33-man group but has been handed a chance to impress with only his second Test start. His inclusion in the second row sees Tadhg Beirne drop back to blindside flanker and Peter O’Mahony switch to openside, while world player of the year Josh Van Der Flier begins on the bench. Speaking of McCarthy, Farrell said: “He deserves it with the form that he’s shown, not just in the games that he’s played, but also in his preparation over the last 10, 11 weeks.”