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Time is now ripe for Sexton's permanent promotion

This is Jonathan Sexton's time. The Leinster out-half provided compelling evidence in the Magners League 27-14 win over the Scarlets at the RDS on Saturday for Declan Kidney to complete a process he started in November by promoting Sexton ahead of Ronan O'Gara for Twickenham next Saturday.

Three months ago, the majority of critics and pundits, who could claim some degree of objectivity, argued that O'Gara should have been retained to mastermind the skewering of the world champions South Africa.

This ran contrary to most of the evidence then-to-fore favouring the choice of Sexton, who had comprehensively outplayed O'Gara in the very core skill of place-kicking and the core value of defence.

It would have been a foregone conclusion were it not for O'Gara's curriculum vitae of glorious renown. He was a proven winner in competition with a fast-improving, in-form potential successor.


Perhaps O'Gara was deemed a superior option because of his career-long capacity to rebuild confidence in the blink of one performance. Ultimately, he held all the reliability of a postman because he usually delivered.

Back then, Kidney showed he was not one for turning away from a decision that needed to be made in the best interests of Ireland.

After all, he had signalled the long-term 'changing of the guard' at Munster when he sided with Tomas O'Leary over Peter Stringer at scrum-half against Sale Sharks in the Heineken Cup back in the spring of 2008.

Last November, the Corkman inside of Kidney gave way to the Irishman. He chose country over county, form over favour, the future over the present, Sexton over O'Gara.

Since then, Sexton conceded to injury for six weeks and into the void stepped the still fresh-faced O'Gara with a resounding dismissal of French champions Perpignan home-and-away in the Heineken Cup.

In fairness, Kidney, a font of fair-mindedness, was consistent in his selection of O'Gara for Paris. Sexton was short of game-time. It was all he could do to maintain the message of equality among the fraternity.

From the moment France's out-half Francois Trinh-Duc, by no means a monster of the game, nonchalantly bounced O'Gara for a gain of 40 metres at Stade de France, it must have confirmed to Kidney that Ireland can no longer plan and scheme without a physical presence in the out-half cockpit.

In these days when an explosion of power and size are deemed, in some countries, prerequisites to progress on an individual and collective basis, Ireland needs a physical wall of resistance in the one-out channel that 17-stone ball carriers see as their very own site with planning permission for 20 metres of ground.

As in November, when Sexton produced a flawless performance to bring Fiji to heel at the RDS, he returned to execute a conclusive 22-point haul against the Scarlets at his home ground. It is a sign that the International Rugby Board Coach of the Year cannot ignore.

Overall, Ireland's greatest deficiency has been to under-utilise the potent instincts of Tommy Bowe, the Ospreys' main attacking threat in the Magners and Heineken competitions.

It is worth the gamble to move the former Gaelic footballer from Emyvale, Co Monaghan, across to full-back. He has already spoken recently of being open to such a shift in search of getting his hands on the ball.


In one stroke, Kidney would pose any number of problems to an England side unfamiliar with, and unprepared for, Bowe's talent for picking the right time to come into the line.

Ireland must make provision for moving the point of their attack away from Brian O'Driscoll and into the hands of the best equipped player to crack open England, in terms of pace, timing and game-breaking instincts, in the absence of Robert Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald.

The captain does not have to be the spearhead. He will always find a way to influence, whether it means reaching out for an interception or burying his head and body under a cluster of forwards.

The shift in emphasis for Bowe would also open the door to a return for Leinster's Shane Horgan as a reward for his unstinting professionalism in the face of creeping years. He can bring a different dimension to Ireland's attack in London.

Who will ever forget his high-fielding try against England at Croke Park in 2007? What about his wonderfully extended right-handed put down to England at Twickenham in 2006?

Moreover, he has shown an appetite for destruction this season. His side-door exit flip pass to Brian O'Driscoll for the bonus-point try against Brive in the Heineken Cup was the highlight of his year, so far.

Leinster's Sean O'Brien has been hit with a fracture to his leg that will end his season. It will put a temporary stop to the gallop of the Tullow tearaway.

O'Brien will leave an opening in the Ireland squad for either the progressive Kevin McLaughlin or Shane Jennings, back to his best from a 12-week suspension.

Munster's Donnacha Ryan has been ruled out of action for the foreseeable future with a dislocated shoulder suffered on Friday night's Magners win over Edinburgh.

In national terms, it is an absorbable blow as Donncha O'Callaghan is back in the frame to challenge Leinster captain Leo Cullen, who has been excellent against Italy and France in the Six Nations.

Des Berry's IRELAND TEAM (v England):

T Bowe; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O'Leary; C Healy, R Best, J Hayes, L Cullen, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.