Rugby World Cup 2023: Johnny Sexton to start in Ireland’s Romania opener

Johnny Sexton takes aim with a kick on Ireland duty against England
Johnny Sexton has not played a competitive match since Ireland clinched the Grand Slam against England in March because of injury and suspension
Venue: Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux Date: Saturday, 9 September Kick-off: 14:30 BST
Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Sounds and online; follow text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Johnny Sexton will play his first game since March after being named in Ireland’s team for Saturday’s World Cup opener against Romania in Bordeaux.

That was the veteran fly-half’s last competitive game when a groin injury led to his second-half substitution.

Sexton missed Ireland’s three World Cup warm-up games last month as he was serving a three-match suspension.

The ban was imposed after Sexton was found to have been “confrontational and aggressive” towards match referee Jaco Peyper following Leinster’s dramatic Heineken Champions Cup final defeat by La Rochelle in May – a game the fly-half had been forced to miss because of his injury.

The 113-cap Sexton’s playing career will end at the conclusion of Ireland’s World Cup campaign.

Coach Andy Farrell’s backs changes from the win over England six months ago see Keith Earls and fit-again Garry Ringrose taking over from Mack Hansen and Robbie Henshaw.

In the pack, Rob Herring is named at hooker, with regular starter Dan Sheehan not deemed ready to play in Saturday’s opener following the foot injury he sustained in the warm-up win over England.

The other forward changes from the Grand Slam game see Joe McCarthy taking over from Ryan Baird in the second row, with Tadhg Beirne, whose recent Ireland appearances have been at lock, named in the back row as Josh van der Flier is included in the replacements.

Herring is given the number three jersey ahead of Ronan Kelleher, who also has had fitness issues in recent weeks.

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Ireland team to face Romania: Keenan; Earls, Ringrose, Aki, Lowe; Sexton (capt), Gibson-Park; Porter, Herring, Furlong; McCarthy, Ryan; Beirne, O’Mahony, Doris.

Replacements: Kelleher, Loughman, O’Toole, Henderson, Van der Flier, Murray, Crowley, Henshaw.

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Ireland go into the World Cup on the back of a 13-Test winning run stretching back to last summer’s series victory over the All Blacks.

Since that triumph in New Zealand, Farrell’s side have underlined their status as the world’s number one team by beating South Africa – who they will face in Pool B – and Australia in the autumn Tests before clinching the Grand Slam in this year’s Six Nations.

However, the Irish have failed to go beyond the quarter-finals stage at all previous nine World Cups despite having gone into several tournaments as one of the form teams.

Farrell’s side will be expected to comfortably overcome the 19th-ranked Romanians at the Stade de Bordeaux.

Romania have never reached the knockout stages of the World Cup in eight previous attempts, while they have lost all nine meetings with Ireland, three of which came at the 1999, 2003 and 2015 tournaments.

Ireland’s World Cup pool games

Ireland v Romania, Bordeaux, Saturday, 9 September 14:30 BST

Ireland v Tonga, Nantes, Saturday, 16 September 20:00 BST

Ireland v South Africa, Paris, Saturday, 23 September 20:00 BST

Ireland v Scotland, Paris, Saturday, 7 October, 20:00 BST

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