Springbok Test for Sexton

Ireland coach Declan Kidney said it was his desire to see Jonathan Sexton play against top opposition that led him to leave out veteran flyhalf Ronan O’Gara for Saturday’s clash with South Africa.

Sexton marked his Ireland debut last week with 16 points in a thumping 41-6 win over Fiji.

But it was the 24-year-old’s assured game management, a feature of his play for Leinster during the Irish province’s European Cup-winning campaign last season, that persuaded Kidney to pitch him into a match that pits Six Nations kings Ireland against World Cup holders South Africa here at Croke Park.

And Kidney’s move could mark a significant turning point in the career of O’Gara and the course of Irish rugby as a whole.

Not since 2003, when David Humphreys faced Argentina at the World Cup, has a different stand-off started for Ireland against a major Test nation.

O’Gara has started every single Six Nations match for the past six years—a run of 30 games—and has only been rested when on duty for the British and Irish Lions or against minor opposition.

But his form during the past two years has been inconsistent and he will be 34 by the time of the next World Cup, in New Zealand in 2011.

Kidney knows that, at the very least, Ireland need a credible deputy and, after announcing his team to face the Springboks, he told reporters here on Tuesday: “I know we have a world-class outside half in Ronan but we have to find out things about ourselves.

“Jonathan had a good game last week but with respect, Fiji were short of a few so it was difficult to read. I need to find out more.

“I worked with Jonathan last year and gave him the nod for the ‘A’ team and that answered a lot of questions.

“I know we still have Ronan available. He’s disappointed he’s not playing but I can’t pick everybody all of the time.

“Ronan is disappointed but is the perfect pro.
He’s taken it on the chin, has continued training and has contributed to the team exactly as he would normally.

“It was a difficult call but that doesn’t really matter. My job is to pick the Ireland team and that’s what I’ve done.”

Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll has won the bulk of his 95 Ireland caps alongside O’Gara but, as a Leinster man, he also knows Sexton well.

“Declan is looking to give Jonathan an opportunity after he proved himself against an under-strength Fiji side,” O’Driscoll said.

“It’s another chance for him against the world champions. They’re two different prospects.

“Ronan will be disappointed to be sitting on the bench but he’s a strong character and has shown time and time again that he turns up for the big moments.

“We know he’s capable of that and this is just a chance for Jonny to prove his worth.”

The Springboks—who grabbed their first win of the northern hemisphere tour on Saturday against Italy—had intended to name their team on Tuesday but have delayed it until Thursday.

South Africa, who have lost to France as well as English Premiership sides Leicester and Saracens, have eight players injured including six that played in the defeat to France.—AFP

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