Jonny Sexton and the Summer Tour

Jonny Sexton’s season in France has gone on at least a week longer than expected.  With Racing Metro securing an improbable win away to Toulouse, largely due to Sexton’s goal kicking as it happens, they’ve made it to the semi-finals of the Top Quatorze.

It only serves to lengthen what’s already been a long, fatiguing season for Sexton, and no doubt Joe Schmidt will be watching closely.  It’s one of the more difficult decisions for Schmidt as to whether or not to bring Sexton on the summer tour to Argentina.  Sexton himself has let it be known he wants to play and it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s no precedent for Ireland to head off on a summer tour with a weakened team.  The only time players were left behind was in 2007 on a tour to – guess where? – Arentina, when O’Sullivan left his 15 Untouchables at home.  But that was the summer directly before the World cup, and this one is still 16 months out from the event, so it’s a very different situation.  These will also be two tough games.  This is a far from vintage Argentina team, but they’ll be using these games to get set for the Rugby Championship, and will most likely have targetted them as their most winnable matches of the season too.  There’s a series to be won first and foremost.

As well as winning, perhaps even more so, the most important piece of business to take care of on this tour is to begin the process of replacing Brian O’Driscoll.  Whether the man Schmidt decided upon is Darren Cave or Robbie Henshaw – it appears it will be one of the two – that player must be given the best possible platform to succeed.  That will most likely mean surrounding the chosen one by as many top-class internationals as possible.

It’s worth casting one’s mind back to how Declan Kidney handled Sexton’s own debut.  The game was against Fiji in the RDS and was sandwiched between two tests against top tier opponents in Australia and South Africa.  Sexton was coming off the back of a career-turning few months; he had steered Leinster to a hugely unexpected Heineken Cup triumph and was now embedded as his province’s first choice fly-half.  He had been in the matchday 23  for the Australia game, but didn’t get on.  As a player he offered huge possibilities to Kidney and Ireland, who until now had been worryingly dependant on Ronan O’Gara.  This was the perfect opportunity to give Sexton his debut.

In a canny bit of management, Kidney surrounded Sexton with the fulcrum of the Leinster team with whom he was so familiar; Heaslip, Reddan, D’arcy and O’Driscoll.  D’arcy and O’Driscoll were in the same boat as O’Gara, in that Ireland were overly reliant upon them and had few alternatives if they were ever injured; unless you counted Paddy Wallace, which most people didn’t.  The game was a perfect opportunity to have a look at alternatives in those positions too.  But Kidney recognised that you can’t do everything at once and the most important thing was to ensure that his gleaming new fly-half was given every opportunity to get his international career off to a good start.  Surrounded by his Leinster colleagues, in the RDS, it would be as if he were playing in blue.  As it happened Sexton played like a dream; so well in fact that Kidney picked him again the week after for the test against South Africa.  In a signature performance, Ireland won 15-11.

Similarly, Schmidt will want to provide his new 13 with as solid a platform as he can, and that surely means playing Sexton inside him.  Madigan, Keatley and Jackson are fine players, but none are as accomplished or as experienced as Sexton, whose threat on the gainline and superb decision making and distribution create space for those outside him.  He is also a leader in the team and will be seen as a key figure for steering an inexperienced player through his first few caps.  Certainly, Ireland will want to develop a couple of options in one or two other positions, but the only position where they face going to the World Cup with an unproven player is at outside-centre.  So if Sexton is named in the touring squad, and the hordes begin baying for ‘development’ of certain players, bear in mind that chances are he’s in the team for precisely that reason.

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35 Comments

  1. Barry

     /  May 14, 2014

    So what we need to do is surround Henshaw with the backbone of the Connacht team 🙂

    Seriously though, Kieran Marmion needs to get capped on this Tour

    • Munstermicko

       /  May 14, 2014

      If Marmion is getting capped all the more reason to start Radges star pupil in that particular game. Give him a Ligind mentored halfback partner.

      When are they naming the touring squad? Will ye be having a go at naming it yourself lads?

  2. Leinsterlion

     /  May 14, 2014

    Surely Murray, Keatley, Jacko and Madigan have enough experience between them? I recall Lievremont beat UnZee with a callow Trinh Duc a fourth/fifth choice nine and Basteraud only a young biff monster on his first summer tour at 13.

  3. Joe’s choice of 13 could well have an impact on who plays at 12. If Cave starts, surely putting him in an all-Ulster backline (numbers 11+) would give him the security he needs?

    In a similar vein, Henshaw would probably learn a helluva lot alongside D’Arcy, but is the beard going to be bumping off Danny Care in the Aviva next year like BOD, or shuffling his feet maddeningly 9 times out of 10 when he gets the ball?

    A decent bit was made about Marshall “not gelling” with BOD and/or Sexton during the Scotland game, and he didn’t play in the rest of the 6N (partially due to *another* concussion, but whatever). He’s also ELEVEN years younger than D’Arcy, so is (concussions notwithstanding) going to be playing for longer at this point, so he and Sexton need to build that relationship.

  4. Yossarian

     /  May 14, 2014

    Talk of building squad/experience for World Cup and leaving people behind to rest all seems unlikely. 2 tough tests have to won. most of the squad should be still playing come the World Cup (question marks over Ross/D’Arcy are purely on age profile) The IRFU don’t spend their time paying the big wages,holding lads back from matches etc during the year so they can take a break in the summer. Sexton being the exception as he is now outside the IRFU control. In his case the player has said he wants to go, Joe Schmidt will want to have him playing and the Team needs his leadership to help fill the ‘Driscoll void. At most i would expect the odd fringe guy like Marmion as a 3rd choice 9 or maybe someone at hooker with Strauss injury. Other than that it wil be largely the 6 nations squad one would imagine.

  5. Topsy Turvy

     /  May 14, 2014

    If he goes with Cave you would imagine he’d be happy to play Jackson and Marshall inside him. Cave isn’t young and has proven himself at every level up to test level at 13 so wouldn’t need as much cotton wool.
    If he starts Henshaw it would make sense in my opinion to have Sexton and Darcy inside him, or at least one of them, probably Darcy.

  6. colman stanley

     /  May 14, 2014

    When’s Olding back? His injury was the worst thing to happen in irish rugby this season imo. Would love to see the guy at 13. If not I think he will definitely start at 12 at the WC. Don’t know why there isn’t the same hype round him as there is Henshaw.

    I’d also bring Keatley ahead of Madigan and Copeland ahead of TOD.

    In terms of 13, I’d start Cave and then try out Henshaw at fullback because the likelihood is, Payne will take the 13 berth, and Kearney needs some competition.

    • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

       /  May 14, 2014

      Never really understood the ‘Kearney needs competition’ argument; he does not give me the impression of a player resting on his laurels. We do however lack cover at fb and I suspect Joe will see Payne as fulfilling that role unless Ulster commit to moving him to 13 – which is unlikely. Joe seems to give players very clear indications of what parts of their game they need to focus on & to do so they need to be playing in same position for ‘club & country’.

      • To be fair, his form did go a bit vanilla for a long while. However, this season he’s (still) had no competition and been excellent. Maybe the Lions tour, and the fact he was dirt-tracking all the way, give him a toe up the hole.

    • Agree on the Olding injury – most disappointing for him personally, Ulster and Ireland.

    • olding was getting same hype and got capped in U.S justifiabley on form. A season long injury has obviously dampened expectation but leinster and Munster would both welcome him with open arms and I would imagine he features in Schmidt’s plans.

    • ehhweasel

       /  May 17, 2014

      Agree. Olding is the most exciting Irish player around. Can’t wait to see him in green, tearing open defences with Marshall.

  7. I wouldn’t take him. He’s played a ludicrous amount of rugby and needs a rest. Yes, we need a new 13, but we also need cover at outhalf. Ahead of the WC we (ideally) need three players who can play in each position (I’m not saying we need 45 test players, that’s not going to happen, but a number of fellas have versatility and can play in several places).

    OC is the biggest void because some fella had the shirt since antiquity (the ’90s… best forgotten!) and apparently he’s retiring. So, yes, we need to look at guys in this spot, but where does it end? Does Sexton start every match until the World Cup? It also has to be borne in mind that he’s with Racing again next season and that means another playing motherlode for our most important asset (on the pitch, that is – all hail St. Joe). Outhalf is another slot where the depth needs work, the non-Sexton options could all do with more game time, and the importance of this is huge (if we put everything on JS and he gets injured, without the others getting a run, then our WC is in trouble).

    Another reason there’s no massive need to take him is that the favourite for the shirt won’t be on tour as he’s not Irish until September.

    For all these reasons I would let the man rest, and I would consider resting a couple of other players, depending on how much they’ve played this season (Trimble is one, but I imagine he – of all people – doesn’t want to give another guy a shot at his shirt). But, more than anyone else, the guy I’d leave behind would be Sexton.

    My squad (ish, 30-something names anyway):

    1. Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne/Cronin
    2. Best (if he’s back), Strauss, Cronin
    3. Ross (though if he’s not 100% I’d be wary of risking him), Moore
    4. Toner, Tuohy
    5. O’Connell, Ryan (is DR fit?)
    6. (Assuming Fez and POM injured) Henderson, Ruddock
    7. O’Brien, Henry, Murphy
    8. Heaslip*, Copeland
    9. Murray, Marmion, Reddan
    10. Jackson, Madigan, Keatley
    11. KearneyD, Zebo
    12. D’Arcy, Marshall
    13. Henshaw, Cave
    14. Bowe, McFadden
    15. KearneyR, Jones

    *one might think he could be rested, but it seems he can play forever, so let him at it – I’m not advocating picking a deliberately weak team, but the fact is everyone knows the schedule is fit to bursting and this is undeniably the best time to give the most stretched players a break – and the above side is only missing Sexton and Trimble (rested), a couple of injured guys and Kiwi Payne.

    Apologies if I have any injury statuses wrong – only so much time in my life to chew the fat over this stuff.

    • colman stanley

       /  May 14, 2014

      Doubt they’ll bring that many.

      Healy hinted that he was going to be rested so I presume it will be McGrath and Kilcoyne only.

      I personally wouldn’t take Toner, he’s obviously good but I think the other options are better. Hendo will go as a 2nd row I think with Tuohy or Ryan missing out.

      I don’t think it will happen but I’d bring Diack, making it 6.Diack/Ruddock 7.SOB/Henry 8.Heaslip/Copeland. Diack has been great this season, arguably better than Ruddock who has also been great. Murphy is well behind Henry and SOB so I wouldn’t take him, but I’m sure he’ll tour.

      I don’t see the point in taking 3 out halves tbh, so I’d have Jackson and Keets.

      Wing is the most competitive area definitely and I suspect Schmidt will bring will bring the men you’ve named minus McFadden for Trimble. I’d take Earls personally ahead of both Dkearney and McFadden, and I can see him touring ahead of someone.

      • Yossarian

         /  May 15, 2014

        So you think Earls,Diack and Copeland will travel to Argentina?But No Healy,Toner,Sexton,McFadden or D Kearney?I think your imagined squad is going to be quite different from one Schmidt is going to pick.
        Diack and Copeland will be off on the emerging squad.

        • Barry

           /  May 15, 2014

          FYI I’ll be in Bucharest 13th June to see Emerging Ireland v Russia – bit random

        • Colmán Stanley

           /  May 15, 2014

          Yossarian, you’re gonna have to read my comment again.

      • If Healy is rested then I’d take Kilcoyne ahead of Cronin. With three LHs you might be able to back that slippery thing called potential. However, maybe it’s silly to even expect Cronin to be a possible for the WC, in which case DK should go anyway.

        Wing is hugely competitive. Gilroy’s not even in the picture after a muted season – I didn’t pic Earls because we can’t take him all, Bowe is number one, I prefer Zebo (to KE) and it’s hard to argue with how Dave Kearney and McFadden have played for Ireland (the latter especially). If we could trade some of that talent for a couple more tight heads I’d be delighted. Not sure that’s how it works.

        I’d not take Diack. He’s very handy for Ulster, but I don’t see at this level. Similar situation to Kevin McLaughlin, IMO.

        • Colmán Stanley

           /  May 15, 2014

          People playing well for their country shouldn’t mean they should automatically be in the team/squad. In relation to the wing, McFadden and D Kearney have both been very good ,but, as they’ve shown for their provinces this season and in their last ireland caps, wouldn’t Zebo or Earls be better. Gilroy as you say has had a muted season but I think his performances for Ireland last season were superior to Dk’s and McFad’s this season.

          On the issue of tighthead, Ross seems to be getting better with age, and Moore is steadily improving. However, I think Furlong is our brightest prospect and that something should be done about the fact that he’s 3rd choice at Leinster.

    • O'Riordan

       /  May 15, 2014

      I wouldn’t take him either. T14 starts mid-August so I assume their pre-season starts a good time before, then it is rugby pretty well all the way until the RWC. I don’t think the IRFU will get many favours from Racing when it comes to 2015 pre-season either.

      Of course Sexton will want to tour – he won’t want to give any of the contenders to his shirt a sniff of overtaking him, however the needs of the squad are greater.

      • Mary Hinge

         /  May 15, 2014

        I would expect JS to go with a group of no more than 30 on a 13/17 backs/forwards split. Maybe something like this:

        Backs: R Kearney, Trimble, McFadden, Zebo, Bowe, D Kearney, Cave, Henshaw, D’Arcy, Jackson, Madigan, Murray, and Marmion.

        Forwards: Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne, Ross, Moore, R Best, S Cronin, O’Connell, Tuohy, Toner, Henderson, S O’Brien, Henry, T O’Donnell, Ruddock, J Murphy, and Heaslip.

      • Can you imagine how well any one of them would have to play to “overtake” him on a two-match tour of Argentina? I think it’s fair to say we’d be talking about two of the greatest performances of all time, by anyone, ever. He’s pretty far ahead at this stage.

        Think you’re absolutely right he’d want to go – but I think that’s because he bloody loves it, the grouchy bastard, for want of a better vocabulary.

    • Interesting squad, probably not far off, but I do expect Sexton to go, probably at the expense of Keatley, or maybe Madigan.

      No place for Keith Earls? The wings are competitive I know, but he has probably shown more than McFadden since the Six Nations.

      Heaslip’s a tricky one. Worth thinking about, though it’s a pity if O’Mahony is injured because it would be nice to see him get a run there. Jordi Murphy would most likely be the beneficiary. I think Jamie will go, on balance. If there are to be players rested, it’s probably not down the spine of the team, and Heaslip is definitely a core memner of the side, and a leader too.

      • Aye, no Earls for me – but, explanation as above, and further to that it wouldn’t upset or shock me if he did go. Fine margins between a lot of players for the 11 and 14 shirts.

        Jordi Murphy is really there as a catch all. Otherwise I’d take Tommy O’Donnell, who is IMO ahead of JM at the minute, but behind Henry and obviously O’Brien and without JM’s versatility.

        • O’Donnell, really? His star has waned in the last couple of months.

          • I’m not really a “last couple of months” type of guy, I guess. Perhaps more in common with Deccie than I might like to believe!

            However, O’Donnell was being talked up in many circles as the man who should replace O’Brien, rather than Henry. Now, I didn’t really buy that, I thought Henry was palpably ahead – but the conversation was still being had. Murphy hasn’t got near that sort of caché, at any stage. Is it not a bit harsh and reactionary to just let TO’D slip out of the thoughts? Not that I have a massive preference (JM is in my putative squad, not TOD).

          • I have great time for O’Donnell, and his best performances comfortably outstrip anything we’ve seen from Murphy to date, but his confidence looks shot and he’s just been dropped out of Munster’s 23 for a Pro12 semi. I’d give him the summer off to get a really solid pre-season in and see where he goes from there.

            Earls is one of the four form wingers in the country (with Trimble, Bowe, and Zebo), has international pedigree, and should travel on that basis. For all that McFadden has been very good for Ireland at times, and Dave Kearney was generally competent during the 6 Nations, neither of them really has the standing to hold off competitors in better form.

          • Colmán Stanley

             /  May 15, 2014

            Couldn’t have said it better myself thoughtless.

            I’d also argue that last seasons Gilroy is superperior to this seasons D Kearney and McFadden. If there was any basis for an argument of Leinster bias from Schmidt, I think that’s where it lies.

  8. Thanks thoughtless, that analysis looks about on the money. I’m not a ‘last couple of months’ guy either but if you’re going to put inexperienced players into the team it’s best to do it when they’re in flying form and full of confidence. Form generally counts for more when they don’t have experience to fall back on. For that reason I’d leave O’Donnell for now, but I’d be confident he’ll come good. Murphy is closer to the team at the moment, whatever they may have done in the past, or what their respective ceilings are.

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