IRELAND coach Declan Kidney has handed fly-half Jonathan Sexton his first Six Nations start for Saturday’s trip to face England at Twickenham.
Sexton, 24, is given his chance to shine in place of Ronan O’Gara, while fit-again Geordan Murphy replaces the injured Rob Kearney at full-back.
Kidney’s two other changes to the team beaten 33-10 by France last time out see lock Donncha O’Callaghan preferred to Leo Cullen and flanker Rory Best come in for the banned Jerry Flannery.
Sexton staked a strong claim to replace the experienced O’Gara during the autumn internationals, scoring all of Ireland’s points in a 15-10 victory over South Africa. Two broken fingers hampered his progress and O’Gara regained the No10 shirt for the first two Six Nations games, a win over Italy followed by the France loss.
Kidney’s selection of the Leinster player against Twickenham suggests the end of O’Gara’s reign is drawing near, although the coach played down its significance.
“We’re blessed with two out-halves, one with huge experience, the other up and coming,” said Kidney. “I thought it was opportune to give Jon a go this time.”
Murphy has made just three Premiership appearances since dislocating his shoulder in September, but Kidney backed the 31-year-old Leicester star to revel against familiar opponents.
“Geordan’s experience will compensate for his lack of rugby,” he added. “He’ll be playing against guys he knows. That was part of the mix.”