Friday 23 March 2018

Neil Jenkins: Ireland have quality 10s, but potential Sexton absence will affect game-plan

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton

Phil Blanche

Wales coach Neil Jenkins feels Ireland will be affected should Jonathan Sexton miss their RBS 6 Nations opener in Dublin.

Fly-half Sexton was forced to come off with a head injury in the early stages of Leinster's 51-10 defeat to Wasps in the European Champions Cup on Saturday and must now go through the return to play protocols.

The 30-year-old missed Ireland's Six Nations opener against Italy last year after being stood down from all rugby for 12 weeks after a series of concussions in a short space of time and will train away from the rest of Joe Schmidt's squad at the start of this week.

"In terms of the other 10s coming in they've got good players," Wales kicking coach Jenkins said ahead of the February 7 clash at the Aviva Stadium.

"But I've no doubt it will affect them.

"Johnny's a world-class player with his all-round ability and his all-round game.

"He's very good defensively and troubles you no end with his kicking game, whether he goes to the corners, goes aerially or attack kicks.

"He puts you under pressure with ball in hand and his kicking game - and when he plays he's a threat to any side."

Wales have their own fitness concerns ahead of the Dublin opener with flanker Sam Warburton and utility back Liam Williams on their way back from respective ankle and foot injuries.

Skipper Warburton played for the first time since the end of November in the Cardiff Blues' European Challenge Cup victory over Calvisano last Friday, while Williams has been sidelined since suffering a recurrence of a foot injury during the World Cup clash with Australia in October.

Both players could play for their regions this weekend, with Jenkins saying he expects Williams to figure for the Scarlets in their Guinness Pro12 trip to Connacht.

"Gats (Wales coach Warren Gatland) will have a discussion with the players and their regions but Liam needs game-time and Sam has stated he needs game-time," Jenkins said.

"I would have thought Liam plays this week for the Scarlets at Connacht but the final decision will be down to the boss 'Gats'.

"We will have to see how Liam plays and whether he plays the full game.

"We will have to see how the game unfolds."

Jenkins also expressed concerns over the lack of Rhys Priestland's involvement at Bath.

The outside-half has started only three times since joining Bath after the World Cup in October and he is very much George Ford's understudy at the Aviva Premiership club.

Priestland will start the Six Nations as back-up to Wales' number one outside-half Dan Biggar, but Jenkins said the Wales management would have wanted the 29-year-old to play more for his club.

"It's obviously an issue with Rhys not playing much rugby," Jenkins said.

"He's maybe one that needs rugby but, from our point of view, he's a fantastic rugby player.

"But lack of game-time is a worry.

"It's what it is, but Rhys seems pretty fresh and in good spirits."

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