Wednesday 23 January 2019

Sexton and O'Mahony may co-skipper tour

Johnny Sexton. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Johnny Sexton. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony may share the Ireland captaincy on the summer tour of Australia after Rory Best withdrew with a hamstring injury.

The Ulster hooker picked up the problem in the latter stages of the season and missed his province's Champions Cup play-off against Ospreys.

However, he had been expected to recover in time to travel but the nature of his specialist position and a limit on the number of players travelling saw Joe Schmidt err on the side of caution and leave his skipper out.


That decision was only taken before the coach took a press conference at Carton House ahead of the squad's departure for Brisbane, meaning Schmidt had not taken a final decision on who will lead the touring party.

Indeed, Best was present at a farewell event at the Australian embassy on Wednesday night; appearing on stage and talking positively about the tour ahead. Within hours, however, Schmidt was ruling the 34-year-old out and calling Munster's Niall Scannell up to travel in his place.

"Rory's not going to tour," he said. "He had a hamstring issue that kept him out of the game against Ospreys and we felt he was really going in the right direction and that he would be ready for game one, definitely for game two.

"But he's just not quite where we need him to be.

"To go away with just two fit hookers is a real risk, because if one gets sick on the morning of the match and you've got one hooker - in the laws of the game you have to have a replacement - so Niall Scannell will come in his place.

"I'm not sure myself [who will lead the tour], because these things have just become apparent ... we've got two vice captains in Peter O'Mahony and Johnny Sexton and a strong leadership group so it will depend a bit on selection and then on what we feel we need at any given time.

"It could be that Pete and Johnny take the team on and share the load."

Schmidt heaped praise on recently-retired centre Jared Payne who will travel on tour as a coach ahead of taking up the defensive reins at Ulster.

"A couple of years ago when we went to South Africa with a very young side, he was an incredible leader in that situation.

"Some of the detail and advice he gave, he's been coaching for the last two years in our environment. So, for him to pick up and do so well in a short space of time with Ulster, already promises plenty from Jared's perspective - without putting any pressure on him.

"He's a good learner with great game knowledge and an ability to communicate positively .We've enjoyed his company yesterday and today. We'll continue to do so for the next 10 days that he's going to spend with us on tour."

Irish Independent

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