Scotland v Ireland Six Nations: Brian O'Driscoll backs Paddy Jackson to deliver in Sexton's absence
Brian O'Driscoll says the days of Ireland panicking when Johnny Sexton misses out on a big game are in the past and, while he believes Ulster's Paddy Jackson still has a way to go in catching up with the Leinster kicker, he believes the 25-year-old will deliver against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Sexton is out of the Six Nations opener, and probably the Italy game on Saturday week, and Jackson will be named in his place when Joe Schmidt unveils his team this lunch-time.
Munster's Ian Keatley is set to be named on the bench alongside Ulster's Tommy Bowe in a surprise return as a replacement with his Kingspan team-mate Andrew Trimble likely to be ruled out with a groin injury.
That means Rob Kearney will start at full-back with Keith Earls and Simon Zebo on the wings, while Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw are set to play together in the centre.
Up front, Schmidt is set to keep faith in the front-row combination of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong, with Donnacha Ryan likely to win the battle with Ulster's Iain Henderson to start alongside Devin Toner, while Sean O'Brien may join CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip in the back-row.
Sexton's absence and the Scottish targeting of Conor Murray are the big talking points going into the opening game but while he reckons Scotland have improved, O'Driscoll reckons Ireland will be OK without their playmaker and he expects scrum-half Jackson to step up.
"We've gone beyond the stage of panicking, but the team is not as strong without Johnny; that's the reality," he said. "People were very worried about South Africa in the summer and Paddy did very well."
O’Driscoll added: “The quality of this squad is the strength in depth and Paddy will come in and do an incredibly proficient job I am sure.
“It’s not ideal that you have Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery both out.
“My expectation is to have something to play for on the final weekend.
“We’ve got two Grand Slams for a reason, because they are so bloody hard to come by. This weekend will be very tough because they (Scotland) look as though they’re relishing the opportunity.
“There’s big talk coming out of Scotland relishing the opportunity of Ireland coming over there and they feel as though they’re on to something.
“If we can get over the first two games with two wins I think we’ll be in phenomenal shape.
“Murray is going to be a huge player for us. I was reading an interview Greig Laidlaw did yesterday and he was pretty specific as to what areas they were targeting; going after Murray, ‘he’s a big player for them’ and with Johnny not playing.”
Possible Ireland team to face Scotland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; P Jackson, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Reps: J Tracy, C Healy, F Bealham, I Henderson, K Marmion, I Keatley, T Bowe.
• Ryan Wilson believes Scotland are finally set to shake off their nearly-men tag and make a run for the RBS 6 Nations title.
The 27-year-old said: “We’re in a really good place but you think that at the start of every Six Nations.
“This time we have got some real depth in positions all across the park, especially in the centres and back-row. That can only be real good for Scotland.
“It is harder than ever to get a place in this team now and that’s what makes us a better team. Competition can only be good for individuals and we’ve got that.”