Ireland v Italy, Six Nations, February 6
Sexton blow for Ireland
February 2, 2010

Ronan O'Gara has been handed the Ireland No.10 shirt for Saturday's Six Nations opener against Italy at Croke Park.

The Munster No.10 reclaims his place in Declan Kidney's starting line-up with a leg injury ruling Leinster rival Jonathan Sexton out of the clash. Sexton laid claim to the jersey last autumn with outstanding performances against Fiji and South Africa that lifted him above O'Gara in the pecking order. Both players have been in fine form since but the 24-year-old Sexton, capped just twice, was favourite to start at Croke Park on Saturday - until a dead leg ended his involvement.

Instead, the 32-year-old O'Gara will earn his 94th Ireland cap with Ulster's Paddy Wallace, who played at fly-half in the A team defeat by England Saxons on Sunday, providing cover on the bench.

Leinster's Kevin McLaughlin is the one new cap named in the side and the 25-year-old will pack down at blindside flanker alongside provincial team-mate Jamie Heaslip and Munster's David Wallace. McLaughlin is the beneficiary after Ulster's Stephen Ferris lost his battle with a knee injury. Ferris sustained the injury while on Heineken Cup duty for Ulster against Bath 10 days ago and has not been risked with the crucial showdown against France looming on Saturday week.

Andrew Trimble completes his comeback from injury with a place on the left wing in what will be his first international appearance since tackling England in March 2008. Gordon D'Arcy renews his centre partnership with Brian O'Driscoll while Tomas O'Leary will partner O'Gara at half-back. Jerry Flannery starts at hooker alongside John Hayes and Cian Healy while Rory Best is named in the replacements following his recovery from injury.

"In Jonathan's case, he pulled up at the end of yesterday's training," explained Kidney. "He had been having a bit of a dead leg for the last number of weeks so we felt it prudent to send him for a scan yesterday afternoon. We got the results yesterday evening and he wasn't available for selection."

On his changes he added, "I think in trying to build a squad you try not to get to a place where you have a preferred XV in the game of rugby because anybody at any stage can pick up a bang or a knock. We had quite a number of them last week but if you stop and wait for a guy to get back you'll never move forward, so that's part of the reason for building a squad, so that we can move forward. I think the lads that are playing deserve to be playing, they are playing very well. I think it's the best team to play on Saturday."

McLaughlin was delighted with his promotion to the starting line-up that comes on the back of an impressive run of form for his province. "Obviously it's a big step up for me this weekend. Every Irish player aspires to play for their country so it's been a big couple of days for me but I'm going to treat it like any other game and just get on with it and play my game on Saturday. That's the way I'm looking at it."

Ireland team to play Italy in the Six Nations Championship on Saturday, February 6, at Croke Park (1430):

R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); R O'Gara (Munster), T O'Leary (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster); D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), K McLaughlin (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), L Cullen (Leinster), S O'Brien (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster), P Wallace (Ulster), K Earls (Munster).


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