Johnny Sexton and Joe McCarthy named to start for Ireland’s Rugby World Cup opener vs Romania

Ireland kick-off their 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign against Romania in Pool B on Saturday in Bordeaux (2.30pm UK time); Johnny Sexton to play first match since March after groin injury and suspension; Joe McCarthy to make his second Test match start

        Johnny Sexton and Joe McCarthy named to start for Ireland's Rugby World Cup opener vs Romania

Johnny Sexton has returned to the Ireland team for their 2023 Rugby World Cup opener vs Romania

Johnny Sexton has been named to start for Ireland in their 2023 Rugby World Cup opener vs Romania on Saturday, for his first game of rugby in any form since March. 

Sexton suffered a serious groin injury in Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam-winning Test vs England in Dublin on March 18, which kept him out of the remainder of Leinster’s club season.

The 38-year-old Ireland skipper was suspended for all three of Ireland’s World Cup warm-up Tests in August due to a misconduct charge following the Champions Cup final, in which he approached and criticised referee Jaco Peyper.

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Head coach Andy Farrell has handed 22-year-old second row Joe McCarthy just his second Test start, alongside the experienced James Ryan, as Tadhg Beirne shifts to blindside flanker and Peter O’Mahony and Caelan Doris complete the back-row.

        Johnny Sexton and Joe McCarthy named to start for Ireland's Rugby World Cup opener vs Romania

Joe McCarthy has been handed his second Test start at lock

Otherwise, Ireland are near full-strength as Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls and James Lowe form the back-three, with Mack Hansen not involved, and Garry Ringrose partners Bundee Aki in midfield, with Robbie Henshaw on the bench.

Jamison Gibson-Park partners Sexton at half-back, while first-choice props Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong flank hooker Rob Herring, with Dan Sheehan (foot) out injured, and Ronan Kelleher starting among the replacements.

Loosehead Jeremy Loughman, tighthead Tom O’Toole, lock Iain Henderson, openside Josh van der Flier, scrum-half Conor Murray and fly-half Jack Crowley join Kelleher and Henshaw on the bench, completing the squad.

No 8 Jack Conan (foot) and loosehead Dave Kilcoyne (hamstring) continue to work their way back to full fitness, with Stuart McCloskey, Jimmy O’Brien, Ross Byrne, Craig Casey, Finlay Bealham and Ryan Baird the other men to miss out.

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Joe McCarthy, 5 James Ryan, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 8 Caelan Doris.

Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Robbie Henshaw.

Sexton: Ireland have built for this moment

“There’s no mix and match. Whatever side we put out will be a good side that represents the group,” head coach Farrell said on Thursday.

“Whatever side we pick will be threatening. Our mindset is full steam ahead. We expect a fantastic performance.”

Sexton added: “We’ve built for this moment for the last four years. We get tarnished by our record [never going past RWC quarters] but we have a lot of good memories at World Cups and we are very much looking forward to it.

“We haven’t looked past this game. We will worry about quarter-finals if we get there.”

Follow Ireland’s opening 2023 Rugby World Cup match against Romania across Sky Sports’ digital platforms.