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Sexton out of Italy match, Ryan replaces him as Irish captain

Talismanic fly-half Johnny Sexton has been ruled out of unbeaten Ireland’s Six Nations match with Italy on Saturday and will be replaced by James Ryan as skipper, the Irish Rugby Football Union said on Wednesday.

Sexton, 37, has not fully recovered from a groin injury he suffered when Uini Atonio landed on it during Ireland’s impressive 32-19 victory over 2022 Six Nations champions France earlier this month.

“James Ryan will lead us in Rome on Saturday!” the IRFU said on Twitter.

Captaincy will not be new to Ryan as he has stepped in to skipper the side on previous occasions Sexton has been unavailable.

“It’s obviously a huge honour, it’s very cool, it’s a great moment for me and my family to captain my country this week. It still hasn’t sunk in,” said Ryan at the captain’s press conference on Wednesday.

“We’ve got a good group there, a core leadership group that has been there for the last couple of years.

“I have big shoes to fill.”

Ryan, 25, said Sexton would still be on hand to give him advice.

“(Johnny) will be travelling over with us so this weekend so it’s great to have him around,” said the second row forward.

“I suppose I just try to lead by example, which is a boring answer but hopefully leading by actions this weekend.

“Yeah (I’ll take things from Johnny) but probably the leading by actions things is the big one, the way he sets the standards in games but also every day, how competitive he is on the training pitch and the difference he makes when he’s training and when he’s not.”

Sexton’s place at fly-half will likely go to his and Ryan’s Leinster team-mate Ross Byrne, who came on for Sexton and closed out the match against the French.

It will be Byrne’s first ever Six Nations start.

Head coach Andy Farrell may have decided to omit Sexton as a precaution with the tough away trip to Scotland and then home to England to come.

Those matches are back to back, on March 11 and 18 respectively, and should the Irish beat the Italians in Rome they will have high hopes of achieving the Grand Slam — their first since 2018.

Italy have lost to France and England thus far in this year’s tournament but have performed well enough not to be taken lightly by the Irish.

The Irish line-up will be announced on Thursday.  

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