KOBE – Flyhalf Johnny Sexton will return to captain the Ireland team against Russia in Kobe on Thursday as coach Joe Schmidt made 11 changes in his bid to pick up the pieces following the shock World Cup defeat to Japan.
Sexton was not risked on Saturday in an otherwise near full strength side because of the minor thigh strain picked up in opening bonus point win over Scotland. Garry Ringrose is the only back who will start all three games with injured fellow centre Robbie Henshaw yet to feature in the tournament.
Flanker Peter O'Mahony is the sole forward retained in the pack that got outmuscled in the 19-12 loss with Jordi Murphy going straight into the back row having flown out to Japan on Sunday to replace the injured Jack Conan.
Ireland will qualify for the last eight with bonus-point wins over Russia and Samoa, and could still top Pool A and secure a potentially less difficult quarter-final if Japan slip up in their remaining two games.