Sexton returns for Ireland as captain against Russia at RWC
KOBE, Japan (AP) — Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton will captain Ireland for the first time among 11 changes to the starting XV for the Rugby World Cup match against Russia on Thursday.
Sexton had a thigh complaint and was rested from the Irish lineup that lost 19-12 in a shocking upset to Japan last Saturday.
This will be Sexton's 86th cap for Ireland. His Leinster provincial colleague Luke McGrath is the scrumhalf.
Head coach Joe Schmidt decided it was time for a rest for Ireland's most capped front row, regular captain Rory Best and props Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong, who have made 15 starts together but were shaded by Japan.
New lock Jean Kleyn makes his first World Cup appearance
Jordi Murphy, summoned this week as a replacement in the squad for the injured Jack Conan, is straight into the action at No. 8.
Fullback Rob Kearney passed concussion protocols, and he's one of four starters to be retained, alongside flanker Peter O'Mahony, center Garry Ringrose, and wing Keith Earls.
Ringrose is making a third straight World Cup start while Robbie Henshaw is recovering from a hamstring tear sustained before the tournament.
Kearney, Earls, and Sexton are the only playing survivors from Ireland's last meeting with Russia, a 62-12 win in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
After starting with the same XV against Japan and Samoa within five days, Russia made nine changes to its starting lineup.
The only six starters retained for a third straight Pool A match were prop Kirill Gotovtsev, lock Bogdan Fedotko, flanker Tagir Gadzhiev, midfielder Kirill Golosnitskiy, wing German Davydov, and fullback and captain Vasily Artemyev.
Flyhalf Yuri Kushnarev, Russia's all-time record holder for caps and points, missed out on the matchday 23.
Russia lost the tournament opening match to Japan 30-10 and, four days later lost to Samoa 34-9. Both times Russia faded in the second half.
Left wing Denis Simplikevich and Samoa's George Harder and Fiji's Rupeni Caucaunibuca are the only Tier Two players to score a try in each of their first two World Cup matches against Tier One opposition. Simplikevich can become the first to do it three times.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton (captain), Luke McGrath; Jordi Murphy, Peter O'Mahony, Rhys Ruddock, Jean Kleyn, Tadhg Beirne, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, CJ Stander, Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Jordan Larmour.
Russia: Vasily Artemyev (captain), German Davydov, Igor Galinovskiy, Kirill Golosnitskiy, Denis Simplikevich, Ramil Gaisin, Dmitry Perov; Viktor Gresev, Tagir Gadzhiev, Anton Sychev, Bogdan Fedotko, Andrey Garbuzov, Kirill Gotovtsev, Evgeny Matveev, Andrei Polivalov. Reserves: Stanislav Selskii, Valery Morozov, Vladimir Podrezov, Andrey Ostrikov, Evgeny Elgin, Sergey Ianiushkin, Roman Khodin, Vladimir Ostroushko.