Ireland v Italy, Six Nations, February 6
O'Gara to spearhead Irish title defence
February 4, 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. Lock Donncha O'Callaghan was a late casualty with a knee injury with Leo Cullen promoted from the replacements and Donnacha Ryan drafted onto the bench.

Italy coach Nick Mallett has retained the squad that beat Samoa in November for their first Championship challenge. The Azzurri won the final Test of last year against the Samoans, 24-6, to ended a 13-match winless streak. Bayonne fly-half Craig Gower has recovered from a knee injury and has been handed the No.10 role while Benetton Treviso's Alessandro Zanni will replace injured captain Sergio Parisse at No.8.

Parisse is out for the entire tournament with a knee injury, so Leonardo Ghiraldini will serve as captain. Mallett has also included uncapped Rovigo fly-half Riccardo Bocchino in the squad.

Ireland: 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); L Cullen (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), K McLaughlin (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

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

Italy: L McLean (Benetton Treviso); K Robertson (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont-Aubergne), G Garcia (Benetton Treviso), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais); C Gower (Bayonne), T Tebaldi (Gran Parma); S Perugini (Bayonne), L Ghiraldini (Benetton Treviso), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers), C Del Fava (Viadana), Q Geldenhuys (Viadana), J Sole (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Stade Francais), A Zanni (Benetton Treviso)

Replacements: F Ongaro (Saracens), M Aguero (Saracens), M Bortolami (Gloucester), P Derbyshire (Petrarca Padova), S Picone (Treviso), R Bocchino (Rovigo), A Masi (Racing Metro Paris)

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

Assistant referees: C Berdos (France), J Garces (France)
Television Match Official: G Warren (England)


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