By Brendan O’Brien
Joe Schmidt has dismissed the suggestion that starting Jonathan Sexton against Argentina in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final amounts to a risk.
Sexton injured his groin against France in last week’s Pool D game in Cardiff and was replaced by Ian Madigan, but the Ireland head coach has managed his star out-half during training this week and is confident of his fitness having named him in his team for Sunday.
“If he’s fit he’s fit,” said the Kiwi ahead of what is the biggest game of his coaching career.
Video by Dan Linehan.
“Before we played France in the Six Nations (this year) a lot of people asked questions and he was fine. We don’t tend to take injuries with players.
“We managed him through the week and we have a fantastic medical and strength and conditioning and rehabilitation group. Johnny himself is ready to go.
“There is risks in everything you do. There is risks in trying to implement the strategies and you accept that.”
Sexton did not kick as much as usual this week, something Schmidt described as “sensible”.
Keith Earls, the other chief injury concern, has also been passed A1 to start. He too has profited from a managed training load and will thus line out alongside Robbie Henshaw in the centre.
Cian Healy edges out Jack McGrath to start at loosehead while Iain Henderson returns to the XV in place of the stricken Paul O’Connell who has been around the squad this week, but who has played no part in preparing the team, according to Schmidt.
That means Jordi Murphy comes into the back row at blindside flanker in place of the injured Peter O’Mahony, Chris Henry wears number seven rather than the suspended Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip takes the reigns as captain from No.8.
Schmidt accepted that his pack’s back five has lost an enormous amount of experience and ability, but pointed to the roles played by Henry and Murphy in recent years when deputising for big names, while Henderson has been in superb form at this tournament.
Should Ireland win it would mark the country’s first time to make a semi-final, but the coach played down the suggestion that the team is being affected positively or negatively by the layers of expectation building back in Ireland.
“We have been in a little bit of a bubble so we haven’t been burdened by it or utilised it to motivate the players.
“It’s keeping a lid on that a little because playing the game is an emotionally-charged moment but, at the same time, you need to be clear in your thinking.”
Ireland (v Argentina): R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, I Henderson; J Murphy, C Henry, J Heaslip.
Replacements: R Strauss, J McGrath, N White, R Ruddock, D Ryan, L Fitzgerald, E Reddan, I Madigan.
Simon Lewis, Rugby Correspondent with the Irish Examiner speaking to Shaun Cronin, Head Sports Reporter, breakingnews.ie after Joe Schmidt named his Irish team to play Argentina on Sunday. Video by Dan Linehan