Johnny Sexton to start as Australia look to bounce back against the ‘best in world’
World Player of the Year nominee Johnny Sexton looks set to return for Ireland against Australia on Saturday.
The out-half, who will go up against team-mate Josh van der Flier, France’s Antoine Dupont and South Africa’s Lukhanyo Am for the gong, has a dead leg but with Joey Carbery ruled out and Jack Crowley the only other out-half in the squad, it appears Sexton will be declared fit.
The visitors arrive with their backs against the wall after slipping to a one-point defeat to Italy last Saturday, and forwards coach Dan McKellar believes they’re facing the leading side in the game.
The World Rugby awards nominations certainly reflect the year Ireland have had, with Andy Farrell nominated for Coach of the Year and Mack Hansen and Dan Sheehan up for Breakthrough Player.
Meanwhile, Australia are being hammered back home and are on the cusp of their worst calendar year since 1958, with former captain Stirling Mortlock writing off their chances of success at next year’s World Cup.
“We’re well aware of it,” McKellar said of the criticism. “I don’t think I’ve been in a more disappointed dressing shed (changing room) than Saturday afternoon in Florence. The players that didn’t play, the staff, we were shattered.
“When you coach at this level and you lose, you feel like you’ve let the country down. We certainly felt that.
“You have got to learn to park it pretty quickly and move on. We’re about to come up against what I consider to be the best team in the world at the moment on their home turf in front of a sold-out stadium. It’ll be a great experience.
“We’re not worried about World Cup finals too much at the moment. We’re just determined to make sure we get a response this week against the Irish.”
As well as Carbery, Ireland will be without Robbie Henshaw but Bundee Aki is back in the squad and Jimmy O’Brien has been passed fit. Joe McCarthy has returned to the squad, while Andrew Porter, Hugo Keenan, James Ryan and Van der Flier are expected to train.
Meanwhile, Leinster have confirmed Ciarán Frawley will be out for a number of months with his knee issue.
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