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Hastings as tough as suspended Russell for Ireland's Sexton

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Blanchardstown (Ireland) (AFP)

Adam Hastings replacing Finn Russell as Scotland fly-half for their opening Six Nations clash with Ireland in Dublin this weekend will make little difference the hosts' captain Johnny Sexton said on Thursday.

Hastings, 23, will make his first start in the tournament on Saturday due to regular outside-half Russell, 27, having been disciplined for breaching team rules last week.

However, Sexton -- who has been appointed skipper by head coach Andy Farrell after Rory Best's retirement -- said Hastings possesses the same mercurial talent as Russell.

"It's like for like really," Sexton told reporters at Ireland's training base.

"When you talk about Finn Russell's strengths, you're talking about Adam Hastings' strengths, they're all the same.

"I don't know how it will disrupt them, they've sort of played it down a little bit.

"They seem to be happy with where they're at and he (Hastings) is a quality player and one that we are going to have to be fully switched on for because he has a full bag of tricks that he can pull out," the 34-year-old added.

Sexton, the world player of the year in 2018, had a disappointing 2019 beset by fitness and form problems which was also reflected in the Ireland side as a whole.

Their limp quarter-final exit to then holders New Zealand was a far cry from their momentous victory over the same opposition in Dublin in 2018 and Sexton has admitted it will leave a mark on him forever.

Sexton's injury woes continued with a knee problem that has seen him out of action since December.

However, his steely determination shone through as he said he has come back before from fitness issues and he was encouraged he would be on song on Saturday after training this week.

"Yeah, great. No setbacks really to talk about," he said.

"It felt good on Thursday in Portugal and I've done pretty much everything since, so delighted to be fit and raring to go now."

- Cooney competition for Murray -

Sexton will once again team up with long-time partner Conor Murray in one of the most formidable half-back pairings in Test rugby.

Murray got the nod from Farrell despite being put under significant pressure by the form of Ulster scrum-half John Cooney.

"I think competition is what every good side relies on," said Sexton.

"When you've got guys that are coming up, whether it's behind you or with you, and you're all fighting for one place it spurs you on.

"But Conor has always been very self-driven from day one.

"He concentrates on himself and he's looked sharp over the last 10 days, like all the nines have."

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