Italy v Ireland, Six Nations, March 16
Sexton ruled out of Italy clash
ESPN Staff
March 14, 2013
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton slots the penalty, Australia v Ireland, Rugby World Cup, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand, September 17, 2011
Fly-half Jonathan Sexton had recovered from a hamstring injury but picked up a fresh ankle injury in training this morning © Getty Images

Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton has been ruled out of his side's Six Nations clash with Italy on Rome on Saturday - just a couple of hours after he was named in the starting line-up.

Sexton looked set for a return to the No.10 shirt having missed the past three games due to a hamstring injury that he suffered against England last month with Paddy Jackson dropping to the bench. However, Sexton's picked up an ankle injury in training with subsequent scans revealing that he had torn a tendon in his left foot. As a result, Jackson will retain his spot at fly-half and earn only his third cap with Ian Madigan, initially omitted from the squad altogether, recalled to the bench where he will provide cover.

Craig Gilroy, who missed the draw with France last weekend with a groin strain, returns on the right wing for only his fifth cap in the place of Fergus McFadden who is unavailable due to a rib injury. Uncapped scrum-half Paul Marshall is also named on the bench as a replacement for Eoin Reddan who broke his leg against France. There is also a further change among the replacements with lock Devin Toner coming into the squad in place of Donncha O'Callaghan.

Ireland's campaign has been plagued by injuries with lock Paul O'Connell, flanker Stephen Ferris and winger Tommy Bowe all ruled out of the entire Six Nations before it began, while centre Gordon D'Arcy and winger Simon Zebo sustained championship-ending injuries early on. Lock Mike McCarthy is another to have missed game time while the likes of Jackson, Marshall, O'Driscoll and Donnacha Ryan have faced fitness tests on a variety of knocks.

Coach Declan Kidney is under increasing pressure with his current contract due to expire at the end of this season but he has refused to blame the injuries, even though it could yet contribute to his downfall. "Players will always get bangs and knocks. It's a physical contact game, no different to American football," he told PA Sport.

"If you wait to be perfect, you'll never have a team, but no player will ever go out on the field unless he is ready to go. We've lost two matches by a combined total of 10 points. A couple of small things and you could be in the winner's enclosure very quickly. But now isn't the time to moan, it's time to roll your sleeves up. It's a huge honour for me to be involved in Ireland and I'm looking forward to Saturday."

Ireland have never lost to Italy in the Six Nations with their last defeat to the Azzurri coming in 1997. Victory in Rome, combined with France dispatching Scotland in Paris, would secure a third-place finish - a reasonable return given the number of injuries they have endured in the championship. But defeat, also combined with a France win, would thrust them into contention for the wooden spoon.

Ireland: Rob Kearney; Craig Gilroy, Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Marshall, Keith Earls; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Mike McCarthy, Donnacha Ryan; Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt)

Replacements: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Stephen Archer, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Paul Marshall, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald

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