Ireland in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to starting Sexton

Ireland in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to starting Sexton

Ireland's Peter O'Mahony is tackled by New Zealand's Sevu Reece, left, during the rugby international between the All Blacks and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, July 2, 2022. (Andrew Cornaga/Photosport via AP)

IRELAND travel to Dunedin for the second of their three Tests against the All Blacks in their summer tour, where the continuous selection of Jonathan Sexton at outhalf is becoming more of an issue for Andy Farrell’s side game by game.

Ireland have created the perfect rugby Catch 22 scenario for themselves. 

The problem is that they need to start Sexton, while they also need to stop starting him.

Joey Carbery, Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley are all in the land of the long white cloud as part of Andy Farrell’s 40 man squad but none of them have shown the kind of form in the number 10 jersey that would indicate that they are ready to stake a permanent claim to Sexton’s jersey.

In saying that, Sexton should probably be sitting this game out for the good of his health. 

World Rugby have introduced protocols around head injuries to ensure that any player who has suffered a concussion must be sat down for 12 days. 

Given that Sexton failed his own-field HIA in the first half of the first Test after a slip had caused his head to crash into the forearm of All Black captain Sam Cane, the assumption was that he would almost certainly miss the second Test, but he has since passed two further head assessments, meaning the medical experts have cleared him of suffering a concussion, thereby clearing him to play.

We may not be medical experts, but surely more care should be taken with regards our captain. 

Ireland’s Keith Earls
Ireland’s Keith Earls

He clearly wants to play these final two Tests, in what will certainly be the last time he faces the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, but for his own good he could probably do with missing this one.

And even if he has to play, does he actually have to start? 

It would actually make a lot of sense, and could actually prolong his influence on the team, if he wasn’t to start every game. 

To come on for the last 20 or 30 minutes and be able to orchestrate affairs when the game is in the melting pot could give the team a real left, instead of having to watch their leader trudge off around the hour mark.

The final scoreline of 42-19 gave the First Test an ugly sheen but Ireland actually started really well, with all the damage essentially been done in the second quarter. 

The almost simultaneous conceding of what was essentially an intercept try with the loss of Sexton seemed to completely throw Ireland, and they shipped 21 points between that point and half time. 

A team simply cannot do this in Eden Park and expect to survive.

New Zealand went after Ireland’s strengths in the first half of that game and they got some serious joy from doing so.

The much vaunted Irish props have often been touted as the best in the world by the Dublin based media but they have been got at by France, La Rochelle and the Vodacom Bulls scrums in recent months and last week the All Blacks front row joined that illustrious list.

They also targeted the Irish lineout. 

With Ireland fielding their second and fourth choice hookers, in Dan Sheehan and Dave Heffernan, while also being without Iain Henderson in the second row, the Kiwis saw a weakness and went for the throat. 

They fielded a lock at blindside in the form of Scott Barrett, to supplement the legendary lock pairing that is Brodie Retalllick and Sam Whitelock, and with James Ryan below par these days they easily won that battle, despite the efforts of Peter O’Mahony in the air.

Another area of Irish strength in recent times has been their back row. 

When Ireland beat the All Blacks back in November Caelan Doris gave one of the great displays by an Irish number eight, but he was a shadow of that player in Eden Park. 

Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier were excellent beside him, but overall the All Blacks won that battle too, with their brilliant number eight Ardea Savea being the game’s standout performer.

The All Blacks have the momentum now. 

It will take a huge performance to stop them in their tracks, and right now it is difficult to see where that performance is coming from.

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