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By Brendan Cole
Joe Schmidt has named Jonathan Sexton to start at out-half for Ireland against New Zealand on Sunday.
There were serious doubts about the star playmaker's availability after he pulled up with a hamstring problem just before half time in Ireland’s bruising 15-32 defeat to Australia. He was not expected to be available earlier this week.
But after an encouraging scan on Thursday, he has been named in the starting line-up. Paddy Jackson would have come in for the start had Sexton been left out out of the squad but Jackson has not been named among the replacements with Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald set to provide cover for the outside backs.
Conor Murray has been recalled to play alongside Sexton at scrum-half while Isaac Boss has been named the replacement scrum-half.
Eoin Reddan drops out of the squad and will start on the bench for Leinster when they face Treviso in the RaboDirect Pro12 on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Rob Kearney has also been judged fit enough to start at full-back despite suffering a rib injury in the loss against the Wallabies while, as expected, Gordon D’Arcy is recalled at inside-centre to play alongside Brian O’Driscoll.
Having drawn alongside Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu when they lined out together against Samoa, D’Arcy and O’Driscoll will again become sole holders of the record for playing together as a starting centre partnership when they line out in tandem for the 52nd time on Sunday.
After starting last week, Luke Marshall drops out of the squad. The 22-year-old is set to line out for Ulster in the RaboDirect Pro12 tonight.
Dave Kearney has also been brought into the starting XV, taking the place of hand-injury victory Fergus McFadden on the left wing, while Tommy Bowe is retained on the right.
Having made three switches in the backline, Schmidt has opted for an unchanged starting pack.
Paul O’Connell will again captain the side from the second row, with Devin Toner again alongside him.
The front-row trio of Mike Ross, Rory Best and Cian Healy will get the chance to redeem themselves after struggling to cope with the Australian scrum last week while the back-row of Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip is also retained.
On the bench, Declan Fitzpatrick replaces Stephen Archer as the replacement tighthead prop but he is the only change with Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Mike McCarthy and Kevin McLaughlin set to continue as the other forward replacements.
Leinster's Shane Jennings was a late call-up as the 24th man, with Dominic Ryan taking his place in the PRO12.
New Zealand, seeking their 14th consecutive win this calendar year, named a strong team overnight with Israel Dagg, Ma’a Nonu and Richie McCaw among the star names set to feature on Sunday.
Ireland: R. Kearney, T Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, D Kearney, J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, P O'Connell (c), D Toner, P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, D Fitzpatrick, K McLaughlin, M McCarthy, I Boss, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald.
Live television coverage of Ireland v New Zealand from 13:00 on Sunday 24 November on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage on Sunday Sport from 14:00 on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).