Italians smell blood as returning Sexton steps out again to rejoin swelling ranks of absentees
Jackson back in as scan reveals torn tendon in Sexton’s foot
If it wasn’t for Ireland’s bad luck of late, they’d hardly have had any luck at all; certainly not with regard to injuries. With a dozen Test internationals already laid low, it appeared this was to be offset by the return of Jonny Sexton, but no sooner was he named to face Italy at lunchtime yesterday after recovering from his torn hamstring than a scan revealed he has torn a tendon in his left foot.
Sexton had turned on his foot in training yesterday, to complete what has been a particularly trying time for both the Racing Metro-bound out half and Ireland .
A brief IRFU missive merely ruled the player out for this weekend, but medical opinion suggests he could be sidelined for up to four weeks.
In any event, Paddy Jackson will thus start his third Test in succession, with Ian Madigan drafted on to the bench again after cameos at both inside centre and scrum half last week _ which rather sums things up.
The only change
The net effect is the only change to the starting XV which kicked-off last weekend’s draw against France sees the fit again Craig Gilroy return for the injured Fergus McFadden.
Donnacha Ryan has been passed fit to start, but such is his importance to the pack, and the lineout especially, Devin Toner has been promoted to the bench in place of Donncha O’Callaghan.
This further fuels the feeling the 2013 Six Nations is marking the end of an era, given the omission along the way of Ronan O’Gara, the injury to Gordon D’Arcy and the doubts as to whether Brian O’Driscoll will play again for Ireland after tomorrow’s tournament finale.
It will be of small consolation to O’Callaghan that, along with Andrew Trimble, he has travelled over with the 23-man match-day squad as cover .
With Paul Marshall joining Stephen Archer on the bench, were both to appear in the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow, it would take Ireland’s tally of player used in this championship to 33.
Although Ryan at least took a full part in yesterday’s session, Declan Kidney maintained “Devin Toner is a purely selection issue. The Italian lineout is very strong so it’s just prudent to have a balance on that side of things this time. He has been going well for us in training so it’s a recognition of both.
“It’s tough on Donncha,” admitted the Ireland coach. “It’s always tough on anyone, whether it’s their first cap or a 100th. I would say Donncha is a long way from his first cap. That’s just the selection for this match. There’s many more to come. He’ll be playing away next year as well and there’s nothing to say he won’t be in for the next match.”
The Irish have at least spread some good cheer, as they’ve been credited with bringing some sunshine with them on arrival yesterday at the sun-kissed Eternal City after days of heavy rain.
The odds on an Ireland win having lengthened with Paddy Powers from 1/3 to 4/9, with the Italians shortening from 5/2 to 15/8 on foot of Sexton’s ill-fortune .
“A dry track would be great, obviously, given some of the conditions we’ve been playing in,” admitted Kidney prior to departure, albeit acknowledging this Azzurri team would like the same.
“But Italy are playing really strong too. So if we can go out, represent Ireland to the best of our ability and come out with a win, that would be some achievement given everything that has been thrown at the lads.
“That’s a recognition of how strong Italy have become. This is their third year in the Rabo, they’ve been getting stronger every year. Two years ago, it was a last-minute drop goal that got us the win.
“We’ve different players coming through now going to a new venue for us. I’m sure Italy are sniffing a little bit of blood against us, judging by the comments after their last match, they probably sense we’re a little vulnerable. So to get a result would be quite an achievement.”
Kidney spoke of his admiration for his counterpart Jacques Brunel from previous Munster-Perpignan meetings, and how Italy now retain possession through phases without panicking as of yore, while varying their use of the blindside with the physicality of their backs, as well as helping to give them a “calmness and assuredness”.
“It’s a real 80-minute game,” he conceded, “and we’ve been speaking about it the whole time. We haven’t made excuses all the time but the injuries are bound to have an effect at some part of the game.
“What we need to do is put ourselves in a good position. When we learn from the past matches, we’ll become a better team with it. If we got the sides together, there’s always a little learning along the route with it. And the lads are working as hard as any team they’ve worked with to rectify it.”