Picking Sexton again highlights Ireland's need to be braver with team selections

Picking Sexton again highlights Ireland's need to be braver with team selections

Johnny Sexton starts again for Ireland tonight, but the question is why when a bit of freshness is needed? Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

LOTS of changes, but why is Sexton starting again?

Over the next four weeks, Ireland will play four internationals where the results will have very little consequences whether they win, lose or draw.

The World Cup draw seedings are already decided and world rankings are irrelevant, so why Farrell isn’t using these games to blood the next commander and general is just beyond me.

Without question, Johnny Sexton is Ireland’s best out-half and has been ever since he stood over Ronan O’Gara (2009) and publicly challenged him for his number 10 jersey. However, that was nearly 12 years ago now and the time for his predecessor to immerge is well overdue.

I realise that Joey Carbery was widely tipped to assume ownership of the much-coveted position however, injury after injury has curtailed the Munster player’s journey to the summit and many are now questioning his long-term prospects.

Carbery now 25 was sent for an operation on his troublesome ankle in August after he missed most of last season due to the injury he suffered before the World Cup.

It now seems that Munster or Ireland can’t even give us an estimated return to play date which is stirring the rumour mill and normally there is no smoke without fire.

I really hope for his sake that he at least gets another opportunity to prove his capabilities because he certainly enjoys all the attributes that a world-class fly-half needs. Thankfully age is with him.

The decision to rest CJ Stander and Bundee Aki for tonight’s game is a very welcome development and the start will do wonders for Peter O’Mahony who needs a strong performance.

O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier are picked on the flanks which sees Caelan Doris shifting to number eight, his normal position.

This new look back-row seems to have a nice assortment of youth and experience however, a successful back-row trinity must have the proficiencies to operate as a unit whilst also working vigorously as individuals.

Each must know where the others are whilst defending, and in attack, it is imperative that they feed off each other in order to create continuity. This level of symmetry normally only happens when they have worked together over a prolonged period of time.

Farrell hasn’t wasted any time in giving New Zealander James Lowe his Ireland debut by selecting him on the wing for this game. 

James Lowe. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
James Lowe. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Lowe’s Leinster teammate and another Kiwi-born player Jamison Gibson-Park will also make his full international debut in the half-backs alongside Sexton and whilst both have worked extremely hard in earning their starting positions, it just kills me to think that two Irish born players are losing out on representing their country of birth.

For me the whole qualification process for foreign players becoming eligible to play for Ireland is something I find hard to swallow and if it isn’t policed and managed correctly, we will end up with a national team made up of plastic Paddies who are playing for a wage rather than pride.

I guess these players are arriving on our shores as products of the professional game and it is something we must learn to accept.

I just hope the representation levels never reach the point at which we see when our international soccer team trots out and stands for Amhrán na bhFiann with sealed lips.

As for Ireland’s Call, don’t get me started.

Once again Farrell has opted for a brutal approach to making holes in the opposition's midfield by selecting Chris Farrell and Robbie Henshaw.

Both Farrell and Henshaw are big powerful units and at times would rather go through you rather than around you.

The problem with this is that if you have a well organised defensive and fast opposing midfield who are not afraid to put their bodies on the line, this facet of Irelands attack can very quickly become a burden rather than a weapon.

The option to retain Jacob Stockdale at full-back is fair enough.

Stockdale isn’t as bad a player as his display against France made him out to be but in saying that, I don’t think he’ll be the long-term replacement for Rob Kearney either.

Rob Kearney with Will Genia. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Rob Kearney with Will Genia. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

An international full-back will always be in the right place at the right time and Stockdale seems to struggle with this concept.

Maybe with a few more games under his belt he will find his footing albeit, I would also question his kicking proficiencies, especially when he is under pressure.

Ireland’s opponents for tonight’s game haven’t had a good run of things lately either.

Life for the Welsh was never going to be plain sailing when Warren Gatland handed over the reins to Wayne Pivac who took over following the end of last year’s Rugby World Cup.

Yet another New Zealander, Pivac started his tenure with an emphatic Six Nations win against Italy in Cardiff but defeats to Ireland, France and England soon followed, with Scotland then securing a rare win on Welsh soil on the final day of the rescheduled Championship.

Pivac’s arrival was supposed to see Wales evolve from the physical playing style which saw them flourish under Gatland and move to a more skilful and attacking brand of rugby but as we all know Rome wasn’t built in a day and this transition is going to take time.

Wales will head into Friday’s clash in Dublin without a defence coach following the sudden resignation of Byron Hayward and when things like this happen it normally indicates much unrest in the camp.

Games against Wales are never easy and at best Ireland’s chances are 50-50.

A lot will depend on how the Welsh react to their recent string of losses and whether or not Sexton and co. can deal with pressure when it comes.

Ireland to win, but only because it’s a home game.

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