Sport Rugby

Saturday 24 March 2018

Lancaster ponders changes to combat Sexton kicking threat

Stuart Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

ENGLAND coach Stuart Lancaster says preparations are already underway for coping with Ireland's kicking game as he hailed Johnny Sexton as the best No 10 in the northern hemisphere.

With Mike Brown still working his way slowly back from concussion and highly unlikely to be fit in time to play, Alex Goode is the favourite to play at full-back, while Jack Nowell is expected to replace Jonny May on the wing in anticipation of an Irish aerial bombardment.

Sexton won the man of the match award against France on his return to action after a concussion-enforced 12-week lay-off and came through Racing Metro's draw with Clermont Auvergne unscathed last Saturday.

Joe Schmidt's side generally kick more regularly than their opponents and England are expecting to be tested.

Both teams resume preparations for Sunday's Grand Slam eliminator today and England will be placing a huge emphasis on receiving and returning Ireland's kicks in training, with Lancaster hailing "the accuracy of Ireland's kicking game" in last year's clash at Twickenham

"Certainly the back three are going to be tested," he said. "We know it is going to come again.

"Whatever combination we decide to do with, we've got two full days' training and Friday to prepare, so we will be ready.

"(Sexton's) performance last week, having not played for 12 weeks, was exceptional, so to get another game (for Racing) under his belt, he will be glad for it.

"Joe Schmidt will be glad he's got through unscathed.

"He and Conor Murray are pivotal to Ireland's game, their kicking game, and quite rightly Sexton was the Lions' starting fly-half and his form hasn't diminished since then.

"They are a very good partnership. Sexton's relationship with Joe Schmidt, implementing the game-plan, does make him a key player, but equally Ben Youngs been on that Lions tour too and George (Ford) has an opportunity to measure himself against the best fly-half in the northern hemisphere."

Brown suffered concussion when playing for England against Italy last week and his attempted comeback stalled when he experienced symptoms after doing bike work on Friday.

That means he began the 'return to play' protocols again yesterday and the earliest he can train is this Friday, the day Lancaster names his team.

England called Saxons full-back Chris Pennell up to their squad yesterday, but Saracens stalwart Goode is the man in line for the full-back slot.

"We absolutely trust Alex. He's played lots of big games for us in that position. He's lost out in the short term because Mike has played exceptionally well but Alex has played consistently well for England," Lancaster said.

"He's certainly confident and feels ready."

Irish Independent

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