Rugby Sexton returns for Ireland as captain against Russia

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Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton, center, works out with teammates during a training session in Iwata, central Japan, ahead of the Rugby World Cup Pool A match against Japan in Hamamatsu, central Japan, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (Yuki Sato/Kyodo News via AP)

For once, Ireland is quite happy to have a short turnaround, playing just five days after its last Rugby World Cup match.

To the Irish, the sooner they get to kick off against Russia on Thursday under the roof in Kobe, the sooner they can expunge the taste of their loss to Japan.

The 19-12 defeat to the tournament host last Saturday, their first ever to Japan, was a massive downer. All the more so because the Irish thought they were peaking nicely and wouldn’t be so dominated as they were in Fukuroi.

Coach Joe Schmidt lamented his side stepping back after leading 12-3, but he also didn’t believe his team’s discipline was as bad as it looked. He rued four penalty calls against them for offside but, according to Schmidt, feedback from the referees showed three of the calls were incorrect, and two were made by assistant referee Jerome Garces, who will be the match referee on Thursday.

“We know we’re going to have to be on our best behavior,” Schmidt says. “One thing I would say about this team is that they try to go out and deliver and, generally speaking, it’s unusual for us to have a higher penalty count than our opponents.”

What he wants against the Russians is more of the first quarter against Japan, getting on the front foot and setting up their moves. By necessity, with the Russians coming only five days after the Japanese, he’s freshened the team by making 11 changes to the starting lineup.

Fullback Rob Kearney passed concussion protocols to be one of the four starters retained, alongside flanker Peter O’Mahony, center Garry Ringrose, and wing Keith Earls. Ringrose was given a third straight start because Robbie Henshaw was still rehabilitating his hamstring issue and Chris Farrell was concussed.

Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton, rested against Japan because of a sore thigh, will mark his 86th cap with the captaincy of Ireland for the first time.

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