Johnny Sexton says he is honoured and proud to captain Ireland for the first time and is now determined to lead a much-changed side to a crucial win against Russia.
World Rugby Player of the Year Sexton was missing on Saturday as Ireland were stunned by Rugby World Cup hosts Japan in Pool A, leaving Joe Schmidt’s men with plenty of work to do in matches against Russia and Samoa.
Schmidt has responded by making 11 changes to his XV, including the return of Sexton, who had received treatment on his thigh in the opening win over Scotland.
The 34-year-old becomes the 106th player to skipper Ireland and is raring to get going.
“It’s a massive honour,” Sexton said as Ireland’s team was announced at a news conference on Tuesday.
“I spoke to Joe this morning so only found out myself over the last few hours and haven’t had the chance to tell my family or anything. But I’m sure they’re going to be very proud as well.
“It is something I have thought about since I was a kid, something I’ve made decisions around trying to get there one day. It has taken a while but it was worth the wait and I feel incredibly proud.
“But I want to be a captain who delivers a good performance and a good win in a World Cup game – that’s my main focus.
“I don’t think anything changes really for me. I have a big responsibility in the team anyway, so nothing has changed.”
#RWC2019 @JohnnySexton will be the 106th player to captain Ireland when he leads the team against Russia on Thursday. Congratulations Johnny. #TeamOfUs #ShoulderToShoulder #IREvRUS pic.twitter.com/en890QmEkz
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 1, 2019
The fly-half added on his fitness: “I kicked on Monday a little bit, it wasn’t anything too much. Then I kicked again on Tuesday. I feel good and ready to go now.”
Elsewhere in the line-up, Schmidt has brought in Jordi Murphy, who only joined the squad this week after Jack Conan flew home with a fractured foot.
Only Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose and Peter O’Mahony keep their places for Thursday’s game.
Bundee Aki is back after a head injury against Scotland, but Chris Farrell failed a head injury assessment against Japan and is out.
Ireland team: Rob Kearney, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, John Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Jean Kleyn, Rhys Ruddock, Peter O’Mahony, Jordi Murphy.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, CJ Stander, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Jordan Larmour.
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