World Cup: Ireland ready to gamble on fitness of influential Sexton

JOHNNY SEXTON: Ireland fly-half is poised to start against Argentina tomorrow.JOHNNY SEXTON: Ireland fly-half is poised to start against Argentina tomorrow.
JOHNNY SEXTON: Ireland fly-half is poised to start against Argentina tomorrow.
Joe Schmidt has insisted there is no risk in throwing Johnny Sexton into Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final with Argentina despite the fly-half’s lingering groin injury.

Ireland have opted to gamble on throwing in their linchpin fly-half from the start against the Pumas in Cardiff, even though the Leinster pivot has fought a fitness battle all week.

Sexton trudged out of Ireland’s 24-9 victory over France at the Millennium Stadium after just 25 minutes last weekend, then immediately set about working to be ready for the last-eight encounter.

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While Ireland have named their premier playmaker in their starting line-up, the 30-year-old will still most likely use all the available time until Sunday to ensure his groin issue has healed completely.

When asked if selecting Sexton carried any risk, Ireland head coach Schmidt insisted: “Not really.

“If he’s fit he’s fit.

“We don’t tend to take too many risks with injured players. But there are always risks in everything you do.

“We’ve allowed Johnny to build his way back into the week. He had a fairly light start to the week but trained fully in the Millennium Stadium this morning. And we feel he’s ready to go.

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“It’s been a very light training week, we’ve got a few guys carrying bumps and bruises.

“But we’ve got 48 hours more to freshen and hopefully be ready to go on Sunday.”

Ireland must face Argentina without pivotal pack leaders Paul O’Connell, Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien, and have chosen to address the problem by drafting Jordi Murphy into their back row.

Chris Henry starts at openside flanker as expected, with Iain Henderson therefore slotting in alongside Devin Toner at lock.

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Ireland boss Schmidt has resisted the temptation to shift Henderson to blindside flanker and pair Donnacha Ryan with Toner, keeping the changes to a minimum after captain O’Connell’s tournament and Test-career ending hamstring injury.

O’Connell headed to London for surgery on his torn hamstring on Thursday but was expected to return to Ireland’s World Cup camp and be on hand for the build-up to the last-eight battle.

O’Mahony has already returned to Cork as he starts the long process of recovering from knee ligament damage.

O’Brien will sit out Sunday’s Pumas clash owing to his one-match ban for punching France’s Pascal Pape in the first minute of last weekend’s Pool D decider. Schmidt backed Jordi Murphy to cope with the pressure weighing down on his shoulders as he steps into the last-eight battle.

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“Jordi has started Six Nations matches for us, he’s played six before, and he can also operate across the back row,” said Schmidt. “And we felt this was probably his best position having rehearsed running in that position more often than anyone else.

“We did think about putting Iain Henderson there and putting Donnacha Ryan in at lock, and that may still happen during the game.

“But we felt Iain Henderson added a little more ballast.”