Irish rugby coach Declan Kidney has announced his team to play South Africa in a test match in Dublin this Saturday. There are a few changes but none are as surprising as the decision to start Leinster star Jonathan Sexton as outhalf instead of Munsters Ronan O'Gara.
Sexton made his debut for Ireland last Saturday against Fiji. Sexton scored all of his seven kicks and three were slotted over the bar from the touchline. His highly impressive performance earned him the man of the match.
Not only was Sexton able to guide his kicks with precision but he had an outstanding running game against a hard hitting Fiji.
The rivalry between O'Gara and Sexton has been evident in recent games between Munster and Leinster. It was only last May when Leinster trampled Munster in the European Heineken Cup and Sexton was photographed intimidating a bruised and battered O'Gara.
Sextons harder and more diverse style of play has won him many admirers within the rugby community. O'Gara will be 32 at the next rugby world cup in 2011 and Kidney is racing to find a reliable replacement.
Commenting on his decision to start Sexton instead of O'Gara, Kidney said,
“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."
South Africa is currently the worlds finest rugby team. They are abrasive, fast and ruthless. Sexton has shown in his game against Fiji that he has the depth and strength to play against the Springboks.
It may be a relief to O'Gara that he does not line out against the Springboks on Saturday. The last time he played South Africa was earlier this year with the British and Irish Lions. His inability to make and take big hits effectively lost the series for the Lions.
Kidney acknowledged that O'Gara was disappointed in his decision but,
"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 Ireland team and that’s what I’ve done.” said Kidney.
Brian O'Driscoll has played alongside O'Gara for most of his 95 Irish caps. A close friend of O'Gara's, O'Driscoll said that, "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.”
There are six changes to the Irish team that plays South Africa on Saturday. Keith Earls replaces the injured Luke Fitzgerald on the wing, Tomas O'Leary replaces Eoin Reddan, Paddy Wallace returns to the centre with Brian O'Driscoll at the expense of Gordon Darcy.
Donnacha O'Callaghan joins Paul O'Connell in the second row and David Wallace returns to the back row and Cian Healy replaces Tom Court in the front row.