Captain Johnny Sexton confirms he is fit to kick at goal

The Misaki is like playing rugby inside a sauna and water breaks will be allowed

Ireland’s players take part in a training session at the Steelers training ground in Kobe. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland’s players take part in a training session at the Steelers training ground in Kobe. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Johnny Sexton will captain Ireland for the first time against Russia inside the sweltering Kobe Misaki stadium on Thursday evening.

“It’s a massive honour,” said the Leinster captain. “I spoke to Joe this morning so I only found out myself over the last few hours. I haven’t had a chance to tell my family but they will be very proud.

“It’s something I have thought about since I was a kid. I made a lot of decisions around trying to get there one day. It’s taken a while but it was worth. I feel incredibly proud.”

In 2013 former Ireland coach Declan Kidney floated the captaincy idea to Sexton before opting for Jamie Heaslip. The 34-year-old was also considered post the 2015 World Cup but Joe Schmidt went with Rory Best (who is rested for the Russia match).

“Not much changes for me, I take a big responsibility inside the team anyway.”

Sexton confirmed that he is fit to kick at goal having passed the duty over to Conor Murray after suffering a thigh strain against Scotland on September 22nd

“I kicked yesterday a little bit, wasn’t able to do too much, and then kicked today post session. I am ready to go now.”

Ireland had a full training session this morning against Japan champions the Kobe Steelers - sans Dan Carter - who are guided by former St Michael’s coach and Blackrock flanker Dave Dillon.

“The energy Kobe brought, they counter rucked us a couple of times and gave us a good old bashing which reminded us that we got to be big enough to look after our ball even if the entry is coming in the side,” said Schmidt. “It was an ideal hit out for us. Energy is contagious and they brought plenty with them.

Wayne Smith is part of their coaching set up but so is [HEAD COACH]Dave Dillon who spent some time at St Michael’s coaching Luke McGrath and James Ryan. ”

Schmidt has made 11 changes from the team that lost to Japan in Shizuoka but injuries to Robbie Henshaw (hamstring) and Chris Farrell (concussion) dictate that Garry Ringrose will play his seventh game since August 10th - he has already completed four 80 minutes.

“It’s a risk,” Schmidt conceded, “but Garry is feeling great and playing super. He was one of the guys who didn’t miss a beat against Japan. He moved into 12 with Jordan Larmour at 13 who he is really a back three player...and we were chasing the game.”

Larmour threw an intercept in midfield - for an 80 metre territorial swing - that effectively killed off any chance of Ireland salvaging a draw against Japan.

“Robbie is on the cusp of being available. If we put him back in this week - which we thought about - it is a risk we feel we don’t need to take because Garry is feeling good and we got Bundee back and he has got a bit of bounce about him. We can put Robbie maybe in next week [AGAINST SAMOA].

“With Chris Farrell suffering a concussion and it being a five day turnaround our hands are tide there.”

The Misaki is like playing rugby inside a sauna to the point of it being a health and safety concern. The officials will allow water breaks every 20 minutes.

World Rugby have confirmed that all stadiums with roofs will remain shut. This has been the policy since 2003 to avoid the Six Nations mind games over Cardiff.

“The boys were saying the ball was like a bar of soap as the game went on against Japan,” said Sexton. “It’s something we have to be conscious of, the need to play smartly. Hopefully it won’t be too big a factor.”

The humidity is significantly worse in Kobe with ball handling a constant issue in the Scotland versus Samoa game last night.

On Wayne Barnes and Angus Gardner penalising Ireland more than Scotland and Japan, Schmidt added: “generally speaking it is unusual for us to have a higher penalty count than our opponents so we got to be on our best behaviour.”

Luke McGrath is set to play 80 minutes as Joey Carbery has been named as scrumhalf cover to give Conor Murray a proper rest. Andrew Porter covers loosehead prop as Cian Healy has also been stepped down.

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