Just why is it that Johnny Sexton looks so dominant in a blue jersey, and cuts a sometimes cranky, frustrated figure in green? Because he’s not quite up to test level, right? Because ROG is on the bench unzipping his jacket every time Johnny misplaces a pass? The good people at ESPN Scrum are here to offer a clue.
Here are Reddan and Sexton’s kick-pass-run statistics from Saturday’s final:
Sexton: Kick 4, Pass 27, Run 6
Reddan: Kick 5, Pass 90, Run 5
That’s 9 kicks, 117 passes and 11 runs between them.
Here are Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton’s stats from Ireland’s home defeat to Wales in this year’s Six Nations:
Sexton: Kick 15, Pass 18, Run 1
Murray: Kick 7, Pass 62, Run 7
That’s an aggregate of 22 kicks, 90 passes and 8 runs. Twice as many kicks and fewer passes. What’s more, after the game Declan Kidney accused the team of ‘playing too much rugby in the wrong areas’. Translation: they should have kicked the ball more! Can you see what we’re getting at?
To be fair to Ireland and Kidney, the halfbacks kicked the ball a lot less in the rest of the tournament. For the middle of the series, when Sexton and Ireland played well, the stats were more comparable to those when they play in blue. Against Scotland, when Ireland won 32-14, Sexton kicked 4, passed 18 and ran 2, while Reddan, who had replaced the stricken Murray kicked 7, passed 35 and ran 4.
The message is clear: why kick the ball when you have the best running-and-passing fly half in Europe? And what the stats don’t tell you is how much flatter to the gainline Sexton stands for Leinster. Whiff of Cordite utterly dismisses the argument that Sexton is incapable of playing at test level when he is so dominant in the Heineken Cup.
We also reject the argument that something akin to Leinster’s gameplan would not be as successful at test level. Kidney’s apologists have pointed out umpteen times that Leinster have the advantage of playing every week, while Ireland can only convene on the training paddock a few times a year and have to cut their cloth accordingly. But is the same not true of opposing teams – and therefore should their defences not be just as rough and ready as Ireland’s attack? I thought test rugby was a step up form the Heiny, not a step down?
Besides, Leinster’s style is based on nothing so complicated as precision-accurate passing, supporting the man with the ball and a feral attitude at the breakdown. The players have the skills to implement it. The notion that these fundamentals are diminished at test level is laughable. After all, it’s worked out ok for New Zealand.
“He’s taught me to let him play, he’s not that bad a player. Give him his head and he’ll call what he’ll see. He’ll come in and have a chat and build from week to week, but to be honest I haven’t seen much of him.”
The above is a quotation from - who else? – Joe Schmidt. It’s high time Ireland did the same.