Ronan O'Gara dramatically kicked out in Irish shake-up for showdown with South Africa

lreland coach Declan Kidney made the sensational decision to drop 93-Test veteran Ronan O’Gara in favour of Jonathan Sexton - then admitted he was stepping into the unknown because he does not know much about the rising star.

Leinster No 10 Sexton, who played in Saturday’s 41-6 win over Fiji, has held his place for this weekend’s showdown against South Africa at Croke Park, with O’Gara forced to sit on the bench despite his own return to form against Australia 10 days ago.

It is the first meaningful Irish Test that has not featured O’Gara since the World Cup clash with Argentina in 2003, when David Humphreys was preferred.

Ronan O'Gara

Left out: Ireland star Ronan O'Gara

O’Gara has started every Six Nations match since = 30 in total - and has only been overlooked by Ireland when on Lions duty or being rested against minor opposition.

‘No, I wouldn’t say I know that much about him,’ said Kidney of Sexton, 24, who won his first cap and produced a near-flawless display against Fiji last Saturday.

‘I haven’t had the opportunity to work with him really. We had a Churchill Cup together and we’ve had these three weeks together. He subbed the first week and played last week, so we’ll see how he goes. It’s my place to give opportunities and that’s what we’re doing here.’

The decision comes just days after the coach declared the Ireland team must wean themselves off a decade-long dependence on O’Gara, Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll.

Declan Kidney

Bold move: Declan Kidney

Kidney has a relationship with O’Gara going back almost two decades, when Kidney was teacher and coach, and O’Gara a pupil at Presentation Brothers College in Cork.

But sentiment was not allowed to intrude on a decision that must also have been informed by the fact that O’Gara will be 34 come the next World Cup in 2011.

‘That’s why we need to find things out,’ said Kidney. ‘There is no way we are going to get to a World Cup and play four or five warm-up games and the number of games we want to play (without options).

'We have the chance to play the world champions in our own back yard so you don’t take risks, but you have a bit of a plan and you try to find things out as you go along.’

Captain O’Driscoll backed Kidney’s shock move, insisting that if the team is going to evolve from Grand Slam champions to World Cup contenders then such contentious calls have to be made.

‘Declan is looking at it as giving Johnny an opportunity,’ said O’Driscoll, Sexton’s Leinster colleague.

‘He proved himself with his game against an under-strength Fijian side and this is another chance for him against the world champions.

‘So they’re two different prospects. Obviously from Rog’s (O’Gara’s) point of view, he will be disappointed as he is any time he is left out of an international team.

'‘He would have been disappointed to be left out against Fiji last week and he will be disappointed to be sitting on the bench this week.

‘But he’s a strong character, he’s shown time and time again that he turns up for the big moments and we know that Rog is capable of that.

'It’s just an opportunity for Jonny to prove his worth.’

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