Ireland to bank on Marshall and Jackson class
Paddy Jackson will be joined in the starting line-up by his 22-year-old Ulster colleague, centre Luke Marshall, who will take over from the stricken Gordon D'Arcy and form a potentially lethal partnership with Brian O'Driscoll against Scotland this weekend.
There had been fears that Marshall had joined an ever increasing list of casualties when he had to be helped from the pitch during Ulster's win over Zebre on Friday night. Mercifully that injury proved to be no more serious than bruising to his thighs.
He is expected to be one of five Ulster players included when Declan Kidney announces his starting team.
Loosehead prop Tom Court is expected to be a surprise inclusion alongside his provincial team-mate, hooker Rory Best, in the front-row.
Munster's Dave Kilcoyne had been the favourite to replace the suspended Cian Healy as he had been on the bench against Wales and England but Court's scrummaging skills are expected to see him win the day.
Craig Gilroy will continue on the right wing with Keith Earls coming into the side on the left in place of the injured Simon Zebo, who is recovering in Cork from an operation to repair the broken bone in his foot.
In all, Kidney has to make five changes to his starting team as Ireland are experiencing a hugely debilitating casualty crisis. Connacht's Mike McCarthy is also out of commission after sustaining ligament damage. His place will be taken by Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan, who will add to his 92 senior caps when he starts alongside Donnacha Ryan.
Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe have been missing all championship, while Cian Healy has been suspended for three weeks for stamping on England's Dan Cole.
The Leinster prop is not due to return until the final match against Italy on March 16, but Ireland are mulling over an appeal given that he is effectively serving a four-week ban.
“My own view is that there was a certain degree of ambiguity in the hearing's decision,” Kearney said.
“While Cian was suspended for three weeks, he was ruled out of rugby for four weeks. That's an area we'd like clarity on.
“But unless we feel we have very good grounds for appeal, we won't appeal it.”
Head coach Declan Kidney names his team to face Scotland at lunchtime today knowing that defeat in Edinburgh would end Ireland's fading title hopes.
Ronan O'Gara is likely to start at fly-half in Sexton's absence — Ulster's Paddy Jackson is in pole position to supply cover from the bench — but his substitute display against England and for Munster over the weekend were concerning.
The main criticism of O'Gara is his defence, but assistant coach Les Kiss has warned Scotland that targeting the 10 channel could play into Ireland's hands.
“Most teams will target the half-backs.
“Since I've been in charge of defence my motto has been let them have a go because it's fools gold a lot of the time,” Kiss said
“It can actually set the opposition up to go down a path that we want them to go down. “
A report in France is stating that Sexton has finalised his move from Leinster to Racing Metro in a deal worth around £520,000 per year for two years, with an option for a third season.
Meanwhile, Scotland will focus even more on getting the basics right to combat the step-up in class of opponents when they face Ireland on Sunday, according to coach Duncan Hodge.
“There is a lot of things that we have put in place over the last few weeks, pre-England game as well, that came to fruition in that game.”