Johnny Sexton will lead Ireland’s charge into the 2023 World Cup following his return from injury and suspension – as Andy Farrell prepares to name his squad for Romania opener
- Johnny Sexton is set to be named in Ireland’s side for their World Cup opener
- Andy Farrell is preparing to list a strong side to face Romania on Saturday
- Sexton has not kicked a ball in six months following both injury and suspensions
- Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results
Johnny Sexton will lead Ireland’s charge into the 2023 World Cup with Andy Farrell primed to name a strong team on Thursday for the opener against Romania.
Sexton has not kicked a ball in six months, and his return from injury and suspension is expected to be the headline feature of a powerful team, when Farrell reveals his selection in Bordeaux.
With three players in the 33-man squad out with injury, the head coach has deep reserves from which to choose his 23-man squad.
And with Tonga up in round two, there is the scope for Farrell to ensure that as many players as possible within the squad get to feature in at least one match, before business turns deadly serious in round three with the spectre of South Africa in Paris.
The desperate need to get Sexton tuned up dictates that he will start, and he is sure to have most front-liners for company. Assuming Farrell picks as close to his strongest team as possible for the Romania match, he then has scope to rest star names against Tonga and have them fresh for the South Africans.
Johnny Sexton, pictured in March, will be selected for Ireland’s World Cup opener on Saturday
Head coach Andy Farrell is preparing to name a strong line-up for the clash with Romania
Dan Sheehan, Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne have all been ruled out as they recover from foot injuries in the case of Sheehan and Conan, and Kilcoyne tries to overcome a hamstring issue.
Having those three, and in particular Sheehan, ready for September 23 and the Springboks is vital, but there is no danger of the line-up selected coming unstuck against the Romanians.
The biggest challenge could be posed by the blazing heat that greets the Irish squad as they arrive in Bordeaux on Thursday, having travelled south from their base in Tours.
Temperatures are forecast to hit 35 degrees at the Stade de Bordeaux, and with the match kicking off at 2.30pm, the conditions will be draining.
There are few challenges that Ireland have not anticipated, though, and an intense training week in Portugal in early August exposed them to similar heat.
All that meticulous planning will soon be put into practice, and full-back Hugo Keenan transmitted an understated but unmistakable belief in the squad when he spoke before the squad departed Tours.
‘It’s a run of what could be seven games, four tough pool games guaranteed,’ he said of the looming challenge, with three knock-out matches the ultimate ambition.
Full-back Hugo Keenan has insisted that Ireland are feeling ‘ready’ ahead of the tournament
‘It’s going to be a challenge. It’s physical sides we’re playing against, it’s physical Test games back to back to back that we’re going to be facing, and that’s the challenge.
‘We’ve been building nicely during the summer preparing for this, not only in pre-season block but for a couple of years.
‘I think we’re ready for it.’
An enormous support will follow them to France from this weekend.
Over 60,000 tickets for the tournament have been sold in Ireland, with many taking advantage of the proximity to France. Ireland’s four pool games have long been sold out.
One of the notable differences between this group and previous Irish squads at the tournament is their willingness to embrace the anticipation.
Farrell has set winning the World Cup as Ireland’s goal from the start of this season, but it is the prosaic risks posed by injuries and suspension that could derail the most ambitious of sides.
Farrell’s ambitions of clinching the World Cup could be spoiled by growing injury concerns
That scrum coach John Fogarty alluded to the need to be emotionally disciplined earlier in the week was significant. The expectation is that this is a competition whose outcome could be determined to a significant degree by mistimed tackles, red cards, and big-name players sitting out crucial encounters.
‘We talk about inspiring a nation,’ Fogarty had said. ‘We’re very, very aware that 60,000 supporters have got tickets from Ireland and they’ll come out of everywhere.
‘We’re so aware that we’re representing our families, the people of Ireland and we’re so excited to deliver. It’s just important that we’re primed and we’re ready as opposed to being over the edge.’
The Ireland team is due to be announced at 12.30pm this afternoon.
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