Johnny Sexton ‘pretty down’ after World Cup quarter-final hopes ended
Press Association Ian Madigan will start Sunday’s Argentina encounter, thrust into the biggest game of his life – with Ireland coach Simon Easterby backing the 26-year-old to excel amid the maelstrom. “Johnny Sexton trained fully yesterday,” said Easterby. “He had a bit of tightness in there, he was sent for a scan and it showed the strain. “He was pretty down on himself after last weekend having to come off and being the guy he is, he was exactly the same when he found out he couldn’t make it this week. “He did everything he could. “He trained yesterday and unfortunately it’s one of those things. “In his position as well it’s difficult when you’re kicking, at goal and drop-outs and things like that, with a groin issue. “You all saw what Ian Madigan did last week against France, he showed what he’s capable of, and we know he can do it again.” Ireland ruled Sexton out of their last-eight Pumas battle on Saturday morning, after the linchpin fly-half pulled up after training on Friday night. The 30-year-old fought tooth and nail to be ready for Ireland’s sixth World Cup quarter-final, but lost that battle despite head coach Joe Schmidt declaring the Leinster star 100 per cent fit on Thursday afternoon. Ulster’s Paddy Jackson takes a seat on the bench as Ireland chase their first-ever World Cup semi-final. Ireland have drafted in scrum-half Isaac Boss as their replacement for injured Ulster centre Jared Payne, in a bid to offset Sexton’s loss. Ireland are holding out hope Sexton could be fit for semi-final weekend, but obviously have not projected their plans too far at this point, mindful that Argentina pose a considerable threat on Sunday. Sexton hobbled out of Ireland’s 24-9 victory over France in Cardiff last weekend after just 25 minutes. The Leinster pivot immediately turned his attention to trying to beat that groin problem in time to face the Pumas. Sexton effectively lost that battle on Friday night, forced to accept he just could not reasonably take the field this weekend without jeopardising his own and his team’s full preparedness. Everything Ireland produce, plot and plunder revolves around Sexton, from line-kicking to backline steering, to pinpoint goal-kicking. Never before had Madigan dominated a Test match like his performance against France, but Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip backed his new fly-half to boss the backline once again. “Johnny’s a massive loss to us, of course,” said Heaslip. “I know Johnny’s gutted but he’s also helping Ian prepare and doing everything for that. “But you’ve just got to play with the hand you’re dealt with. “He didn’t react well, and we heard last night he went off to get checked what the news was. “It doesn’t change the gameplan at all with Ian in there. You saw last week when Johnny came off Ian stepped in and we all get the same gameplan we run through the week. “He stepped right in and did a great job. Ian’s taken his opportunity every time he’s been called up, and he will do that again. “It’s not ideal but it is what it is. “We never talk about individuals as such, but we talk about the strength individuals can bring to the group. “Granted Johnny is probably one of the best out-halves out there, but playing with Ian for the last couple of years he’s no slouch either. “Everyone’s stepping in and taking their opportunity, and they deserve it.” Sexton’s absence further dents Ireland already-depleted resources, squad captain Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony out of the tournament with injuries and Sean O’Brien banned for punching France’s Pascal Pape last week. O’Connell has had surgery to repair his torn hamstring, while O’Mahony headed back to Cork for examination on his torn knee ligaments. New skipper Heaslip said both men are back in the Ireland camp, with O’Connell set to address the squad ahead of the Argentina match. “Paul’s making his presence known,” said Heaslip. “He’s almost being carried around like a king, guys getting his dinner and things like that! “Johnny’s up there, Paul’s up there, and Pete (O’Mahony) is gatecrashing for the weekend too. “You want someone like Paul around, he’s a boost for the lads.” Distraught Johnny Sexton broke down on realising his groin problem would rule him out of Sunday’s quarter-final clash with Argentina.