George Hook: Johnny Sexton should think about quitting before it's too late
Published 25/01/2016 | 02:30
As Ireland goes in to the knockout stages of the European Cup without an involvement for the first time in 18 years, one could be forgiven for thinking that the provincial coaches might be under pressure.
Instead, Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora the IRFU performance director, will face an uncomfortable couple of months.
The reality is that Irish rugby is run by the Kiwi and the Aussie and this weekend did not just bring on-field bad news, but more importantly ensured that the spotlight will be focused on these two media criticism averse men.
The game-plan in the World Cup demonstrated that Schmidt is a conservative selector, a rigid disciplinarian and an inflexible tactician.
Heineken Cup success and Six Nations Championships have been achieved by other Irish coaches, but the World Cup is the yardstick by which all are judged.
Johnny Sexton's concussion could be catastrophic for player, province and country. This is no ordinary brain injury. Sexton's history in this area is deeply worrying for everybody concerned about the well-being of this young man.
In December 2014, Racing Metro confirmed that Sexton had suffered four concussions and as a result he must serve a 12-week stand-down period.
In the World Cup match against France, much was made of the ferocious tackle he received from Louis Picamoles, but minutes before there had been another heavy hit. He did not play against Argentina in the quarter-final.
An adductor strain was given as the reason but the on-field treatment at the time seemed to spend little time on the groin area.
The worry was increased with the knowledge that concussion can be caused by a severe hit to any part of the body and not necessarily the head.
Sexton's tackling technique is deeply flawed, as he carries his head too high at the tackle, leaving him exposed to heavy hits - the forearm smash by Mathieu Bastareaud being the perfect example.
The latest brain injury could be career-defining for Ireland's No 10 and will not easily be overlooked by him passing 'the protocols'.
What price is the 30-year-old prepared to put on his future health? How many more blows to the head is he prepared to take in the name of professional sport?
Maybe it's time he gave serious consideration to cashing in his insurance policy and leaving rugby with his faculties still intact.
Schmidt and Nucifora cannot be blamed for the injury but they stand indicted for the failure to keep Ian Madigan in Ireland and more importantly, making sure that he had adequate game-time to prepare him for this very possibility.
Remember Schmidt did not consider him good enough to initially select him for the summer tour to Argentina and watched as Jimmy Gopperth kept him on the bench at Leinster.
Meanwhile, over the last number of years Ian Keatley, a run-of-the-mill fly-half, has been performing week in week for Munster. The cost to Madigan and Munster has been high. Where was Nucifora's high performance plan? One suspects that he and Schmidt simply did not value Madigan.
Even Ireland's notoriously reticent medical community might find its voice if Sexton plays against Wales.
So who now, in the No 10 shirt; Keatley, Madigan or Paddy Jackson? The Championship could be over before it starts.
Leinster's formula for success for the rest of this season was laid out on a blueprint of youthful exuberance and raw talent last weekend. Against Bath at the RDS, with no fewer than six European debutants, Leinster put in a level of performance that had previously eluded them in the 2015/16 Champions Cup.
How many of those players started against Wasps this weekend? Zero. And, what's worse, they were replaced by a bunch of under-performing 'stars', living on reputation.
What we got on Saturday evening was one of the most abject, deflating performances from a Leinster team that I have ever witnessed.
Rob Kearney's lethargic, error-ridden display should see him dropped for Ireland's Six Nations opener against Wales on Sunday week.
To compound his misery, hours earlier, Jared Payne had put in a dazzling display in Belfast as Ulster ran riot over Oyonnax. Jamie Heaslip should suffer a similar fate.
The Leinster selection had the prints of the national management all over it, as it was crucial that the 'first choices" were given a game or otherwise would be undercooked against Wales.
For Leo Cullen, success or failure as head coach now hinges, as with Matt O'Connor, on the whims of the national coach. If he is continually dictated to on team selection, then he will pay for it with his reputation and ultimately his job.
Leinster have buckets of talent coming through the ranks. Cullen needs to back the young guns and make tough calls on the under-performing seniors. An unlikely prospect.
Ulster did what was asked of them against Oyonnax at Kingspan Stadium, but theirs was always a difficult task to make the quarter-finals. Failing to secure even a single losing bonus point in their double-header against Saracens cost them dearly.
Meanwhile Munster's European season meandered to a listless finish in Italy. So only Connacht will carry an Irish standard in knock-out rugby.
Schmidt and Nucifora have made little effort to stem the loss of good players from the Western province, but seem wedded to supporting what are now failed franchises.
The empty terraces, the lack of trophies and an under-performing national team could be their epitaph.
Sexton's injury woes
March 14, 2014: Sexton leads Ireland to the Six Nations title with a brilliant performance against France, but his march is brought to a halt with a sickening clash with Mathieu Bastareaud that sees him replaced.
June 14, 2014: Comes off after 64 minutes of the second Test of Ireland’s summer tour to Argentina after an innocuous-looking tackle on hooker Santiago Iglesias Valdez.
August 29, 2014: Has his jaw broken by a late hit from Toulon hooker Craig Burden when playing for Racing 92. The blow, which rules him out for two months, is also concussive.
November 22, 2014: After kicking what would be the winning penalty, Sexton is concussed tackling Adam Ashley-Cooper. After consulting with a French neurosurgeon, he is stood down from all rugby for 12 weeks.
October 11, 2015: Tears his adductor muscle kicking the ball in the early stages of the World Cup pool game against France and is then hit hard by Louis Picamoles. Misses quarter-final against Argentina.
Saturday: Suffers his latest concussion in an eighth-minute collision with former Leinster centre Brendan Macken. He fails a head injury assessment and doesn’t return to play.