Johnny Sexton has been one of his team’s biggest leaders for the best part of a decade
With Rory Best rested, Johnny Sexton captains Ireland for the first time and his pride at being given the honour was abundantly clear at Tuesday’s team announcement. With or without an armband, Sexton has been one of his team’s biggest leaders for the best part of a decade but if Ireland’s performance level is not to his liking he may be even more vocal than usual when rallying his players.
Ireland have made 11 changes to the team that started against Japan, with only Peter O’Mahony retained in the pack. Back-row forward Jordi Murphy, who has replaced the injured Jack Conan in the squad, goes straight into the team at number eight. Prop John Ryan and lock Jean Kleyn will make his World Cup debuts. With Robbie Henshaw yet to play after a training-ground injury and Chris Farrell ruled out after failing a head injury assessment in the Japan game, Ireland are stretched at centre and so Garry Ringrose will start his third consecutive game.
“We know the stats from the last two games that have been here (Kobe Misaki Stadium) - 30 handling errors in one and 35 in the other. It's being able to adapt to that. How do we adapt? We make sure there's a no-excuse mentality,” said Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell.
The most eye-catching Russian selection sees winger Denis Simplikevich, who got no game time in either of their first two matches, go straight into the starting XV. Perhaps coach Lyn Jones will be hoping that lightning can strike twice because Simplikevich has form against Ireland. Eight years ago, at 20, he made a try-scoring RWC debut against the Irish, in a 62-12 defeat in Rotorua, New Zealand.
Coach Lyn Jones makes nine changes to the Russian team beaten 34-9 defeat by Samoa.
“We are facing probably the toughest challenge that Russian rugby has ever faced. We take on one of the best teams in the world, Ireland. The challenge is huge but the enthusiasm and confidence in our team is very good, and preparation has gone well,” he said.
Fly-half Yury Kushnarev, responsible for 14 of their 19 points in the tournament to date, will not add to his national record 111 caps after being omitted from the match-day 23. His replacement is Ramil Gaisin, who came off the bench against Japan and Samoa. Captain Vasily Artemyev is one of six players who will have started all three RWC 2109 games, alongside Kirill Gotovtsev, Bogdan Fedotko, Tagir Gadzhiev, German Davydov and Kirill Golosnitskiy.