Declan Kidney has placed his World Cup faith in veteran Ronan O’Gara and rookie Conor Murray for Sunday’s winner-takes-all clash with Italy.
O’Gara has beaten off competition from Six Nations starter Jonathon Sexton for the number 10 shirt in the game that will decide Ireland’s World Cup fate.
Fellow Munster player Murray, the baby of the Irish squad, will start at scrum-half alongside O’Gara in the only two changes to the team that shocked Australia a fortnight ago.
O’Gara booked his place in the team with a man of the match performance in the demolition job of Russia last Sunday with Sexton, who has struggled with his kicking in the tournament, back on the bench again.
“Ronan and Conor went well in the last 20 minutes against Australia. Ronan went well against Russia as well. This is the right combination for us against Italy. They’ve played a few times together now,” said Kidney.
“Ronan has been place-kicking well, but if Jonathan Sexton was starting on Sunday it wouldn’t worry me. I’d hate to go down the road that we’re picking Ronan because of his place-kicking.
“He’s too good a player to be saying that about him while Jonny’s place-kicking is not of concern to me.”
Kidney has stayed loyal to the rest of the players who started against Australia for a game Ireland must win to guarantee their place in the quarter-finals.
“Everyone was talking about the Australia game coming into the World Cup, but in our minds we always knew Italy was the big one,” added Kidney.
“Australia was the attractive one to win, Italy was the necessary one to win. The law of averages said Australia would beat Italy in the first match.
“Unless you do a New Zealand and get 15 points from your first three games, it was always going to come down to this. England and South Africa find themselves in the same situation - three wins from three - yet are also in cup-final situations.
“If we were to go out at this stage, well that’s life. The Australia win gave us momentum and that was carried on against Russia.”
The Ireland team to play Italy on Sunday is: Kearney; Bowe, O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Earls; O’Gara, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross, O’Callaghan, O’Connell, Ferris, O’Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: Cronin, Court, Ryan, Leamy, Reddan, Sexton, Trimble.