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Sexton in for game of the year

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Jim Neilly | 14:37 UK time, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

What a decision!

How many of us would have anticipated that Declan "Cool Hand Luke" Kidney would have axed Ronan O'Gara in favour of Jonny Sexton for the most eagerly anticipated of all the November fixtures, as Ireland take on World Champions South Africa at Croke Park?

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has opted to select Jonathan Sexton at fly-half

Despite Sexton's flawless, nerveless display against Fiji on his international debut, all the smart money was on Ireland's most capped fly-half and record points scorer returning to the starting 15, with Sexton looking likely to come in at the opening of the 2010 Six Nations campaign against Italy in Dublin in February.

To be fair, Kidney admitted, following Sexton's impressive performance against the Fijians, that it was going to be close call.

But O'Gara has been demoted for the first time since he and David Humphreys were competing for the number 10 shirt several years ago.

Sexton, at 24, three years older than O'Gara when the Munsterman made his debut against Scotland in 2000, impressed me right from kick-off at the RDS.

He caught the Fijian starting kick and, rather than just boot the ball back down the park, had a quick look and set off at considerable pace, taking the Fijian defence totally by surprise. Wow!

O'Gara now has a battle on his hands for the first time since Eddie O'Sullivan made it clear to David Humphreys that the Ulster maestro was always going to be playing second fiddle, but his demise may be some way off.

Sexton has to step up again this Saturday and will find himself with much less room and time against a side that, while palpably battle-fatigued following the Lions series, the Tri-Nations and the current tour, will dig deep to deny Ireland a calendar year's rugby without loss.

Sexton's selection apart, and Keith Earls for the unfortunate Luke Fitzgerald on the left wing, coach Kidney was always going to stick with the side that bounced back so well to earn a draw against the Wallabies, although it will have been a close call between Paddy Wallace and Gordon D'Arcy at centre.

A wee bit of tinkering with the replacements sees Tom Court lose out to Tony Buckley, and, as if to give O'Gara some encouragement, Peter Stringer is back in the fold as replacement scrum-half.

Stephen Ferris was simply immense against Fiji and, having been denied the chance to take on the Springboks last summer because of a minor injury, he'll be bursting at the seams this weekend.

Ditto Messrs O'Driscoll, O'Connell, Wallace and all the other Irishmen who felt their efforts in Lions shirts deserved better.

Will it be the game of the year? Absolutely!

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