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Sexton says Irish have to be able to figure out referee Barnes


MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Wayne Barnes of England. Photo: Sportsfile

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Wayne Barnes of England. Photo: Sportsfile

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Wayne Barnes of England. Photo: Sportsfile

Messaging has become all-important in Test rugby.

New Zealand changed their press schedule from one in London on Sunday morning - it was to facilitate Kiwi media apparently - to one in Dublin on Sunday evening.

The point appeared to be to let everyone know, contrary to popular opinion, Conor Murray will turn out at The Aviva.

The Irish management released an email at lunchtime yesterday confirming Murray and Robbie Henshaw would not make it, in an out-of-character move.

Then, Ireland put Jonathan Sexton forward for interview at Carton House to get their message across.

The arrow-point of his sharing was about the discipline that Ireland will need to have. And New Zealand too.

The main bone of contention from 2016 was the manner in which the All Blacks went about their business with 12 players 'referred for citing'; 11 from New Zealand, with just two of them - Sam Cane and Malakai Fekitoa - meeting with the Independent Disciplinary Committee, neither one sanctioned.

Sexton's memories of that game are born more out of his time spent as a spectator in the stands for an hour rather than as a player out on the pitch.

"For the 19 minutes I lasted? It was physical for those 19 minutes," he smiled.

"Look, it is always a very physical game. That one probably went over the edge, didn't it?

"I think that game changed a lot [of how dangerous play is perceived], going forward," he said.

"That was a massive moment where high tackles suddenly became what's acceptable and what's not acceptable.

"After that, I feel that things changed and you wouldn't get away with that now."

The temerity of Ireland to break with tradition in Chicago, 14 days previously, brought about a vengeful response.

It is true New Zealand tend to repair the damage done from previous disappointments.

The Irish lost three men in the first quarter alone as Sexton's hamstring strained and Robbie Henshaw and CJ Stander were forced to give way due to head knocks, Rob Kearney joining them in the Head Injury Assessment later.

"In some ways, it was a sign of respect and they were probably hurting from a few weeks previously.

"Look, ultimately, you only get the respect if you beat them.

"They say that themselves and you feel it when you beat them, you get some respect," maintained Sexton.

"Being a part of a few teams that have done it now, I think this side is capable of it.

"We need to get everything right at the weekend and we need to be close to our best."

In fact, Ireland dominated that evening in ownership of the ball (66pc vs 34pc) and time spent in New Zealand's half (69pc vs 31pc).

They even enjoyed the vastly superior penalty count of four against 14 on the back of all the pressure they pushed on New Zealand.

For all of that, they could not break the black wall, kicking just three penalties as Fekitoa plundered both tries on the night.

The Irish have not changed the basics of their approach, making it their business to dominate time and territory as well as staying ultra-disciplined.

Their problem could be the appointment of Wayne Barnes as the man in the middle.

The Englishman has never been kind to Ireland when it comes to whistling. Although New Zealand can also lay claim to the cost of certain howlers by Barnes in the past.

"It will be up to Joe (Schmidt) and Rory (Best) to figure out how he's going to go," said the out-half.

"We have to look hard at our discipline because you can't give away too many penalties against the All Blacks.

"If you look over the years, we've given a lot of penalties away with him [Barnes].

"We need to figure out why and rectify that."