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Ireland v Argentina: Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls expected to start and there is a mini-surprise in the pack

Johnny Sexton must prove his fitness by training with his Ireland colleagues in Cardiff tomorrow morning if he wants to lead the Ireland backline in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

Joe Schmidt will wait until after the session at the Millennium Stadium to name his team with Ian Madigan on standby after his impressive display against France, while Keith Earls also needs to come through unscathed to take his place in the No 13 jersey.

Paul O’Connell will return to the camp after undergoing surgery on his hamstring injury to take up an off-field role, but Jamie Heaslip will lead his country as they attempt to reach the last four for the first time.

The Leinster No 8 could be joined in the back-row by Jordi Murphy and Chris Henry in the absence of the injured Peter O’Mahony and suspended Sean O’Brien.

That would mean the New Zealander would resist the temptation to play Iain Henderson in the back-row, instead pairing him with Devin Toner in the engine room and using Donnacha Ryan off the bench where Rhys Ruddock could make his tournament debut just days after joining the squad.

Jack McGrath is likely to come in for Cian Healy after impressing off the bench against France, with Rory Best and Mike Ross continuing alongside him.

With so much change up front, it is expected that Schmidt will try and keep changes to a minimum behind the scrum where the hope is that Sexton can overcome his adductor strain and start alongside Conor Murray.

Team manager Mick Kearney said the out-half “is expected to train”, while he was more definitive on Earls who was rested on Wednesday but has struck up an understanding with Robbie Henshaw and has played in every game to date.

If he reckons Earls needs a rest, Schmidt will turn to Luke Fitzgerald, while he is unlikely to tamper with his back three as the Kearney brothers and Tommy Bowe prepare to go again.

Ireland name their team at 1.30, while Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade selects his at 1.0. He must replace Saracens centre Marcelo Bosch who is suspended for a dangerous tackle against Namibia, with Matias Moroni the likely outside centre.

Possible Ireland team to face Argentina: R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, R Henshaw, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, I Henderson; J Murphy, C Henry, J Heaslip.

Reps: S Cronin, C Healy, N White, D Ryan, R Ruddock, E Reddan, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald.

Irish Independent

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