The injury curse that has haunted Ireland throughout the 2013 RBS Six Nations struck once again yesterday when Jonathan Sexton was ruled out of tomorrow’s showdown with Italy because of a foot injury.
Just two hours after being restored to the starting XV for the Stadio Olimpico clash, the Leinster stand-off was withdrawn after tearing a tendon in his left foot in training yesterday morning.
The injury was initially viewed as only a minor complaint, resulting in his selection, but a scan completed shortly before the team’s departure for Rome told a different story.
Sexton had returned to full training this week after recovering from the hamstring strain that forced him to sit out the defeat to Scotland and draw with France, and it was a final opportunity for him to impress British and Irish Lions selectors.
Paddy Jackson, who deputised for Sexton against Scotland and France, will continue in his absence, with Ian Madigan supplying cover from the bench.
Jackson impressed against Les Bleus, but Ireland were desperate to select their chief playmaker for a match that could decide whether they finish third or last.
Brian O’Driscoll, along with centre partner Luke Marshall, was concussed against France, but both players have been passed fit to face Italy.
The pack is unchanged from the eight that started against France, with Donnacha Ryan being given a clean bill of health after taking a bang on his shoulder at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Craig Gilroy returns on the right wing after overcoming a groin strain, replacing rib fracture victim Fergus McFadden.
Openside flanker Simone Favaro has returned to the Italy starting line-up in one of three changes. Coach Jacques Brunel has also brought in Lorenzo Cittadini in place of injured prop Martin Castrogiovanni, while loosehead Andrea Lo Cicero will collect a record 103rd cap after replacing Alberto De Marchi.
Favaro takes the place of Robert Barbieri, who picked up a knock at Twickenham, and Castrogiovanni is still recovering from a muscle strain.
Italy: A Masi; G Venditti, G Canale, G Garcia, L McLean; L Orquera, E Gori; A Lo Cicero, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini, Q Geldenhuys, J Furno, A Zanni, S Favaro, S Parisse. Replacements: D Giazzon, M Rizzo, A De Marchi, A Pavanello, F Minto, P Derbyshire, T Botes, T Benvenuti.
Ireland: R Kearney (Leinster); C Gilroy (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), L Marshall (Ulster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), M McCarthy (Connacht), D Ryan (Munster), P O’Mahony (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster, capt). Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), S Archer (Munster), D Toner (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), P Marshall (Ulster), P Jackson (Ulster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster).