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Johnny Sexton named Ireland captain for Six Nations campaign

The fly-half replaces Rory Best as skipper.

Johnny Sexton is Ireland’s new captain (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Johnny Sexton is Ireland’s new captain (Gareth Fuller/PA)

By Ed Elliot, PA

Johnny Sexton has been appointed Ireland captain for the Guinness Six Nations, while new head coach Andy Farrell has named five uncapped players in his 35-man squad.

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Fly-half Sexton takes on the role following the retirement of vastly-experienced former skipper Rory Best.

Leinster trio Ronan Kelleher, Caelan Doris and Max Deegan are among the potential Test debutants selected for the tournament, along with Ulster pair Billy Burns and Tom O’Toole.

Sexton, who has won 88 caps for Ireland, has not played since suffering a knee injury playing for Leinster in early December but, according to his club side, is making “good progress” in his recovery.

The 34-year-old’s only previous experience of captaining his country came in October during the World Cup pool stage win over Russia.

“We have appointed Johnny as captain for the Six Nations Championship, you can see what it means to him and the enthusiasm he will bring to the role,” coach Farrell told the Irish Rugby Football Union website.

“He has been developing as a leader for a number of years with Ireland, Leinster and the Lions and he will be a positive voice for the group.”

Ireland begin the tournament on Saturday, February 1 at home to Scotland.

Sexton said: “First of all it’s a massive honour to be asked to do it and I obviously got a taste for it during the World Cup for that one game and I’ve done it in patches with Ireland in-game when either Rory or Pete (O’Mahony) have gone off in previous games.

“It’s something that I enjoy but ultimately it’s a huge honour, the biggest honour of my career to be asked to do it and I’m really looking forward to it and looking forward to the challenges that are coming up and hopefully we can have a successful Six Nations.”

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Former Ireland captain Rory Best retired after the World Cup in Japan (Adam Davy/PA)

Leinster lock Devin Toner, capped 67 times, returns to the fold after his shock omission from the World Cup squad picked by former coach Joe Schmidt. His replacement for the tournament in Japan, Jean Kleyn, has been dropped.

As expected, Munster fly-half Joey Carbery has not made the cut because of a wrist ligament problem.

With Carbery unavailable and Jack Carty left out, uncapped Burns and Ross Byrne will compete to provide back-up at fly-half and could start against the Scots in Dublin, if Sexton fails to recover from injury in time.

Coach Farrell also has a dilemma at scrum-half, with Conor Murray’s position under threat due to the fine form of Ulster’s John Cooney.

Hooker is another position which is up for grabs as Niall Scannell, who was back-up to 37-year-old Best at the World Cup, has not been selected.

Leinster youngster Kelleher, 21, will battle Ulster’s Rob Herring and Dave Heffernan for a starting spot.

“As we progress through the championship we will look to select sides that we believe are best suited to the task at the weekend,” said Farrell.

“We will keep a close eye on the provincial performances in the PRO14 – not just for the players in the squad that will transition back for game minutes – but also for those players that were part of the wider selection discussions over the past few weeks.”

PA

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