Sexton to sit out Ireland’s fixture against Japan

Saturday, September 28th, 2019 00:00 |
Ireland’s fly-half Jonathan Sexton (2nd R) holds onto the ball during their 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match against Scotland at the International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama on September 22, 2019. Photo/AFP

Ireland has decided not to risk talismanic fly-half Johnny Sexton for this weekend’s Rugby World Cup Pool A clash against hosts Japan after he picked up a niggle against Scotland.

Coach Joe Schmidt has stuck with 11 of the side who crushed their Celtic rivals 27-3 in their opening game, but confirmed Thursday that Sexton would be rested to give the World Player of the Year time to fully recover from a thigh strain.

“Johnny is never happy about being left out,” said Schmidt, who has tapped Jack Carty to take over the playmaking duties against Japan in Shizuoka on Saturday.

“(Sexton) got a little mileage against Scotland and we thought about bringing him off the bench, but it’s a case of being confident in the squad,” he added.

“He keeps himself in good condition and he’s a guy who can come back and hit the ground running.”

Ireland skills coach Richie Murphy added: “When you get a bang in the quad as a kicker it can affect your kicking, so we’re obviously not going to risk him in that part of the game.”

Schmidt, who hinted that Sexton could return against Russia next week, predicted that Carty would rise to the occasion in only his second Test start.

“He’s very calm and doesn’t get ruffled easily,” said the New Zealander.

“He doesn’t get distracted by an error he might make or distracted by people trying to put pressure on him. He stays in the zone incredibly well, so that gives us a lot of confidence.”

Ireland, who have never progressed beyond the World Cup quarter-finals, will be firm favourites to beat the Japanese, who thrashed Russia 30-10 in the tournament opener.

But Schmidt insisted he would not underestimate the Brave Blossoms, who shocked the world of sport by toppling South Africa in their opening match four years ago on England’s south coast.

“I think they’re really well prepared,” he said. “They had between 180 and 200 days in camp this year and they’ve got guys who can change it up.

“I don’t think they will be intimidated by the occasion -- I think they will be motivated hugely by it.”

Schmidt welcomes back fullback Rob Kearney and winger Keith Earls into the starting line-up, meanwhile, after both passed fitness tests.

Earls has scored eight World Cup tries, an Irish record, and trails only legendary centre Brian O’Driscoll in their all-time list for Test tries.

However, there is still no place in the squad for star centre Robbie Henshaw as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury. Rory Best captains the side for the 36th time for Saturday’s game in Shizuoka, equalling fellow hooker Keith Wood. -AFP

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