THE rumour mill has a tendency of turning against you when you least expect it. This is a way of pointing out Jonathan Sexton as the likely – but not definite – out-half starter for Ireland against Wales at the Aviva Stadium next Sunday.
While coach Declan Kidney has refused to look to the 2015 World Cup as his barometer for selection, there must be definitive movement on the Sexton-O’Gara question: Who? For how long?
Leinster’s Sexton, now 26, was the anointed one on the way out to last year’s World Cup. Munster’s O’Gara, now 34, was the man in possession on the way back from it.
The time has come for Kidney to look at the present with an eye to the future. Just as Kidney’s predecessor, Eddie O’Sullivan, chopped and changed between O’Gara and David Humphreys before siding with the Munster fly-half, it is time for Kidney to commit fully to Sexton.
Presumably, the Irish Rugby Football Union has passed on its preference for Ireland to take a here-and-now attitude into the Six Nations.
After all, this is the competition that turns the wheels of the machine on an annual basis. It is the IRFU’s opinion that Ireland cannot forsake it for another global competition four years down the road.
This may not be far sighted. But, it is understandable. Ireland do not have the strength in depth to tinker too heavily with their player resources.
Heck, this is why Leinster hooker Richardt Strauss and even Munster prop Peter Borlase were signed as long-term projects for Ireland-qualification in areas of perceived weakness.
In contrast, Ireland are blessed |with two top-notch number 10s who are bringing the best out of each other. Sexton is back to his best. O’Gara has not wavered from it for some time.
Apart from this, Kidney has to decide which one of his players will step into the outside centre berth. Keith Earls, Tommy Bowe and Fergus McFadden are the logical choices.
It has been manifestly obvious for
some time that Bowe and Andrew Trimble have stopped flirting with moving closer to the action for their clubs in order to serve out their careers as specialist wings.
They may enjoy the freedom to pop up in a variety of positions without the lynchpin responsibility to oversee Ireland’s defence in the outside channels.
However, the most obvious concern is with the unshakable memory of England’s Manu Tuilagi running right over Earls in the pre-World Cup warm-up match in Dublin last August.
Welshman Jonathan Davies, should he play, is a bruising carrier and not inclined to go to ground without |serious convincing, and he should have two other strongmen in Jamie Roberts – if fit – and George North either side of him to aid Wales’ cause.
The only other real decision is in the second-row, where Donnacha Ryan, 28, has finally taken over from Donncha O’Callaghan, 32, at Munster. Ryan has done enough at his club to convince Munster boss Tony McGahan.
Has he done enough for Kidney? Hopefully.
Ireland’s Possible XV (v Wales): R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, G D’Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, P O’Connell (capt), D Ryan, S Ferris, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.