CARDIFF, Wales (AP) Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton withdrew from the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against Argentina on the eve of Sunday’s match, in another injury setback for the Six Nations champions before potentially the biggest game in their history.
Sexton was selected in Ireland’s starting team Friday, despite being a doubtful starter all week after hurting his groin in the win over France last weekend. However, Ireland said Saturday that Sexton’s groin tightened up further after Friday’s training session.
”It was, therefore, felt that it was better to withdraw him from the game rather than risk further injury,” Ireland team management said, confirming that Sexton’s injury was a ”very minor adductor strain.”
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Ian Madigan will replace Sexton, and Paddy Jackson comes onto the bench.
Sexton’s absence is yet another drain on the leadership group as Ireland attempts to reach the World Cup semifinals for the first time. Captain Paul O’Connell, flanker Peter O’Mahony and center Jared Payne were already out injured and openside Sean O’Brien was suspended.
”We focus more on our strength of the collective, we never talk about the individual,” stand-in Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip told a news conference Saturday, soon after Sexton was ruled out.
”Granted, Jonny is probably one of the best (flyhalves) out there but Ian is no slouch either. Everyone who has stepped in and taken the opportunity has deserved it. That’s been our strength over the past 2 1/2 years.”
Madigan, who has 24 test caps, kicked two penalties and converted scrumhalf Conor Murray’s try in the 24-9 win over France in their Pool D decider to pass 100 test points. He is an attacking, inventive flyhalf, with more pace than Sexton but much less experience.
Madigan was also Sexton’s understudy at Irish province Leinster, before Sexton left for French club Racing Metro two season ago.
”Ian having to step up when Johnny has been away has been a great learning curve for him,” Heaslip said. ”That’s why he’s been knocking on the door at international level. He’s taken his opportunity whenever he’s been given it.”
Heaslip said Sexton’s injury ”doesn’t change the game plan at all.”
”It’s part and parcel of the game, we try to plan for that,” he said. ”We demand a lot of everyone (in training), not just the 23 involved on match day.”
Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby said he couldn’t give an exact prognosis on how long Sexton would be sidelined.