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Heaslip must lead Ireland

THE British and Irish Lions number 10 Test jersey for the 2013 tour to Australia is Jonathan Sexton's to lose. So say the experts.

That is the opinion of four former Lions, men of the calibre of England's Will Greenwood, Scotland's Scott Hastings, Ireland's Shane Horgan, and, most interestingly, Wales' Scott Quinnell.

Former number eight Quinnell, normally an advocate and devotee of Welsh rugby, agreed with his three colleagues in one of those Lions roundhouse debates last week that Sexton is the man for the end of this season.

Quinnell supported Sexton ahead of Welsh pair Rhys Priestland and, arguably, the more accomplished Dan Biggar; Greenwood ahead of England's Toby Flood, Owen Farrell, George Ford or Jonny Wilkinson; Hastings ahead of Scotland's Greig Laidlaw or Ruaridh Jackson.

All held one caveat outside of form and fitness: Sexton has to transfer the accuracy from placed balls in the blue of Leinster to the green of Ireland in the 2013 Six Nations.

It is a question Ireland kicking coach Mark Tainton was content to take issue with on the basis of his recent form for the Heineken Cup champions.

"He has missed a few kicks. He has spent time working very, very hard (on his kicking)," noted Tainton.

The most recent evidence came out of Sexton's seven from nine attempts in the PRO12 League dismissal of Cardiff Blues at the RDS on Saturday night.

"His general game, his game management, I thought, was very good. He put Leinster into good areas of the pitch to attack from," he added.


"Last weekend, his goal-kicking was very good. I have got no questions about it, if Jonny was to start against South Africa."

Since then, Brian O'Driscoll has fallen foul of injury and there is an opening for a new Ireland captain, possibly on a long-term basis.

Apparently, Paul O'Connell has enough to do to make it to the starting line-up. This is Declan Kidney-speak for O'Connell mightn't make it that far given his back injury. Another strong candidate, Rob Kearney, is also out of the running due to a back problem.

However, the very importance of Sexton's goal-kicking is one reason why he should not be named as Ireland captain for the November series.

It is rare that out-halfs are given the role of the captaincy, however much they want it. The playmaker has to contend with making decisions every second of every game. He is the quarter-back, the ringmaster, the creator-in-chief and main executioner of the game-plan.

It was Greenwood who collared Sexton at the end of the 2011 Heineken Cup final miracle comeback against Northampton Saints on the say-so of Brian O'Driscoll that the fly-half verbally took Leinster by the scruff of the neck in a shell-shocked half-time dressing-room and shook them back to life, turning doubters into believers.

While Sexton is an undoubted leader, Jamie Heaslip is the man Joe Schmidt turns to when club captain Leo Cullen is not available to steer the good ship Leinster.

While Ireland's number eight is just not interested in currying favour with the national media, he is often the central figure for club and country when troops gather around for direction.

Never one to doubt his own ability, he is quick to remind friends and foes that he holds an unbeaten record as Leinster captain.

The Naas man demands the attention of his fellow players, both for what he does on the field and what he says in the huddle.

It could be Heaslip's time to let the armband shine.