Monday 18 December 2017

McQuilkin wants Sexton-O'Gara axis to take attack to All Blacks

Jonathan Sexton during training yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton during training yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Hugh Farrelly in Queenstown

FORMER Ireland centre Kurt McQuilkin has reiterated his belief in a Ronan O'Gara-Jonathan Sexton midfield partnership ahead of Saturday's third Test against New Zealand in Hamilton, claiming that it provides the side with far more options in attack.

New Zealand-born McQuilkin, who won five caps for Ireland in the 1990s, worked with Sexton (pictured right) when he was defence coach for Leinster and called for the pair to be selected together during the World Cup after their series of impressive second-half cameos.

He believes Sexton has matured into a top-quality international out-half but says that switching him to 12 next to O'Gara is a good option for this Test following the injury to Gordon D'Arcy.

"I think it is definitely an option to look at," said McQuilkin from his home in Taupo yesterday.

"Having O'Gara at 10 and Sexton at 12, you then have two points of attack, not just working off a 10.

"You have a 10 and a 12 with two good passing games, two excellent kicking games and Sexton fills that New Zealand second five-eighth role really well. I just think it gives you more options in attack and you can hit those wider spots a lot easier."

Sexton had an immense game in defence during last weekend's 22-19 loss to the All Blacks and although McQuilkin, whose defensive coaching was critical to Leinster's first Heineken Cup success in 2009, said O'Gara would probably be targeted by New Zealand if he started at 10, he thinks it is something Ireland could handle.

"O'Gara never shirks a tackle, he will always give it a shot -- it is just that technique sometimes lets him down," said McQuilkin.

"From set-piece, they (New Zealand) might have a look at him, but from phase-play with the system Les Kiss wants to play you could then hopefully move him out to the wider channels to make side-on tackles rather than those big, grunty full-force tackles against some of the bigger forwards or Sonny Bill (Williams)."

With Keith Earls recovering well after missing the second Test with a shoulder injury, coach Declan Kidney has the option of moving Brian O'Driscoll to inside-centre as he did in the first Test, but McQuilkin would prefer to see the Ireland captain left where he is.

"I thought he (O'Driscoll) was rolling back the years -- a couple of those balls late in the match he took them at pace and really attacked the space," he said.

"He had a tremendous game, defensively and in attack.

"If Earls is back they might want to move Brian back to inside-centre, but he has still got the goods as a 13, so leave him there."

Ireland assistant coach Mark Tainton said the O'Gara-Sexton partnership was "a realistic option" for Saturday but also said they would look at slotting Paddy Wallace straight in at 12.

The Ulster man has joined up with the squad in Queenstown and Tainton said he is happy that Wallace could fill in for D'Arcy, having played two weeks ago in the pre-tour defeat by the Barbarians.

One of Tainton's main priorities for Saturday is sorting out the restarts, for and against, where Ireland struggled badly in Christchurch.

"New Zealand were very successful at it, both with Kieran Read and, when he went off, Richie McCaw," said Tainton.

"Dan Carter is very accurate and it is a big pitch -- we have got to be more competitive in the air. It is certainly something we have been looking at closely. I mean, we get a try or a penalty and we are giving them the ball back straight away.

"As for our own restarts, Jonny (Sexton) was very disappointed with his restarts, he is a true professional and he is not going to shy away from it. Our system would be to drop our restarts just outside the '22' with enough hang-time to be contestable.

"It is a massive part of the game; the guys know they need to be more accurate, they are very disappointed with the restarts."

Sexton kicked 14 points on Saturday but fell just short with a long-range effort just inside the All Blacks half to potentially win the game. Tainton said Sexton is well used to taking distance kicks, and using full-back Rob Kearney for penalties awarded further out was not considered.

"Jonny backed himself and he has been knocking those over in training. He got under it a bit and it was turning too fast and dropped quickly," said Tainton.

McQuilkin is expecting a far better New Zealand performance this weekend but says Ireland can go after them again in Hamilton.

"Ireland shook them up on Saturday and the All Blacks are going to up their performance, without a doubt," said McQuilkin.

"As much as they play it down, New Zealand were complacent in Christchurch. The All Blacks will be fired up in Hamilton but so will the Irish and if it is as good a Test match as we had last week, we are in for a ripper."

Irish Independent

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