Sexton, O’Driscoll and Kearney in Ireland XV

Trio will start against the All Blacks on Sunday despite injury concerns earlier in the week

Jonathan Sexton will start against New Zealand.

Jonathan Sexton will start against New Zealand.

 

Despite ongoing injury concerns, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has named Rob Kearney, Jonathan Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll in the starting XV to face New Zealand.

“All three took full part in training today,” said Schmidt. “Rob trained on Wednesday.”

Notably Paddy Jackson and Robbie Henshaw have not been released for Ulster and Conancht Pro 12 games tomorrow, despite not being named among the replacements this afternoon.

Kearney (subluxed costal cartilage/slipped rib), Sexton (hamstring) and O’Driscoll (ongoing calf problem, dating back to September) have evidently done enough in training to be included in Schmidt’s plans.

“If Johnny hadn’t trained Paddy Jackson would have played,” Schmidt explained.

Still, it is an undoubted risk to use the trio who have barely trained this week. Fergus McFadden’s hand fracture gives Dave Kearney his first international start at left wing while Schmidt has also wielded the axe at scrumhalf and inside centre.

Luke Marshall and Eoin Reddan are back on the provincial beat in Belfast and Treviso (on Sunday) as Gordon D’Arcy returns to partner O’Driscoll in a record breaking midfield partnership (52 Tests to Ma’a Nonu and the rested Conrad Smith’s 51).

Isaac Boss, a Kiwi by birth and another Leinster player whose career has blossomed on Schmidt’s watch, is promoted to the bench as Conor Murray comes in for his 22nd cap at scrumhalf.

The pack is unchanged. That’s yet another vote of confidence for Devin Toner, named ahead of Mike McCarthy, although Declan Fitzpatrick replaces Stephen Archer as cover for Mike Ross.

Ian Madigan’s ability to cover 10, 12 and 15 keeps Jackson outside the matchday panel while Henshaw has been usurped by Luke Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, a Test winger on the 2009 Lions tour in South Africa, who has been hampered by shoulder and two knee injuries in the meantime, is seen as a more experienced option than the undoubtedly talented 20-year-old from Athlone.

Henshaw covered for O’Driscoll when the record Ireland caps holder received seven minutes of treatment during last Saturday’s 32-15 defeat to Wallabies and ended the match at fullback.

Fitzgerald now looks certain to win his 27th cap off the bench in either of these positions or wing.

Although no concern was voiced about backrow injuries, Leinster’s veteran openside Shane Jennings will also be togged on Sunday. Jennings had initially been named on the Leinster side to face Treviso on Sunday but has been withdrawn from that team and will now provide cover if needed at the Aviva Stadium.

Ireland (v New Zealand): R Kearney; T Bowe, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D Toner, P O’Connell, P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, D Fitzpatrick, M McCarthy, K McLaughlin, I Boss, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald.

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