Friday 19 January 2018

Sexton not type of man to let team-mate take a bullet for him

Jonathan Sexton in action during the captain’s run at Twickenham yesterday. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Jonathan Sexton in action during the captain’s run at Twickenham yesterday. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Is Eddie Jones like one of those generals who sits of a white horse, drinking champagne and eating forks of Beluga, well away from the battle, while his troops get blown up down below? Or is Eddie an honest man who tells it as it is?

But first it might be time to deliver a lesson on loyalty, courage and honesty. We might even delve in to the facts of rugby life as well, with a brief explanation of the mechanics of survival and like all survival programmes we will start by lighting a fire.

So much has been written about Jonathan Sexton's injury problems that I have to explain why it is he hasn't finished off all of his matches. It's like this you see. These big huge men play rugby and if you jump out of their way, well then they run in and score tries. As the puck who had the vasectomy said to the she-goat, I kid you not.

That's about it really tactics-wise. So if Sexton jumps out of the way, England will score tries. And if he stays put and takes on the big boys, well then we will be in contention. Because of all the punishment he takes in the process of stopping the big boys, Jonathan may well have to go off before the end.

And then there will be those who will say 'we told you so'. Do they think that if a player says 'I'm not really going to get stuck in today, feeling a bit iffy', the opposition will go all soft and give him the day off from tackling? Rugby is a rough old game. There is a slight difference between holding the door open off the pitch and on the pitch.

Jonathan plays the game like an extra wing-forward, and so too does Conor Murray. Without that aggression our games would be lost well before half-time. The alternative would be to take out a No 7 from the pack at ruck, maul and lineout time. The No 7 would then take a bullet for Jonathan and he would be the one to go off injured.

And in case you didn't know, No 7s have mothers and fathers too who worry if they get injured, and No 7s get injured more than most. Which is why both Sexton and Murray suffer their share, which is why they do not last the full 80.

Jonathan isn't the kind of a man who would get a teammate injured to save his own skin. And I'm pretty sure that if a tackle is missed, it will be well chronicled.

It's all fine and grand to say he should sit in the pocket like a redundant snooker ball. It worked for Dan Carter at the All Blacks and Jonny Wilkinson at Toulon, but look the minders they have. And both of them suffered terrible injuries.

Sexton is made from the same flesh and blood, and to suggest he is some way brittle or that a replacement will last longer is ludicrous.

Rugby offers little protection to No 10s other than a stretcher. Refs give the benefit of the doubt to the tackler. I've been writing about this for years but as Nostradamus was wont to say, "nobody takes any notice of me".

Jones, another prophet of doom, says out-halves have a red dot on their foreheads. I think he meant bullseye.

Eddie didn't say anything most of us already didn't know. Eddie quite rightly pointed out that Robbie Henshaw and Stuart McCloskey will run hard at the lighter English backs such as George Ford. That's the way it has always been. All we ask for is fair play. No high elbows and no late tackles with 'sorry ref but the brakes are gone on me'.

There was a time when it took seven or eight years to become a doctor, but now it seems there's no need to study at all. Dr Eddie Jones has taken to making clinical diagnoses on players and Dr Hook has his very own medicine show. Dr Hook has a gruff bedside manner but I do think he does have a genuine affection for Jonathan.

George is right. Rugby is a dangerous game but players make choices to play. And now it's becoming trashy too. Dr Jones brings players' parents in to his press conferences - and yes Jonathan has a wife, or do you think wives are superfluous Eddie?

I'm not sure why Eddie mentioned Jonathan's parents in particular. Was he trying to get inside the player's head and plant seeds of doubt? Every single parent worries when their kids go out to play rugby but Jonathan will not be intimidated.

Those parents you mentioned, and whom you never met, taught him how to stand up for himself. I'm fairly sure decent English rugby supporters - and most are - will be most displeased with you Eddie.

My mam lit a candle for Jonathan before every game. Ellen Dillane was one of the team of caring and skilled nurses who looked after our mother in her dying days of last August.

Ellen drove her son Ultan to every match and every training session. Young Ultan is on the bench today for Ireland and the likelihood is he will get his first cap. It's a proud day for Ellen, Tralee RFC and Kerry. And Tralee RFC have two players on the Ladies team. Well done to Zoe Grattage and Ciara Griffin.

If you include Sexton as a Kerryman, and we do, there is barely a Dub on the starting XV. Or maybe we will give you half of him.

Ultan's fellow second-row Donnacha Ryan has made a miraculous comeback after a terrible injury. He is one of our favourites. Donnacha's three sisters live and work in London. I'd love so much if the Ryan girls could experience the thrill of walking in to work on Monday morning next after their brother beats England.


The Irish in England rejoice in the glory of the victories of a tiny country over a land of many more millions of money and population.

We are up against it for sure. England might do for us in the pack. We were done in the scrums late on in Paris and if Ian Madigan comes on he must not try to win the game in one go and all by himself.

Joe Schmidt, the smartest coach in the world, has more control of his emotions and this will stand to us.

For the first time ever, we have bigger backs. And Eddie has given us the best team talk ever.

Just before the brotherhood of Irish and English jockeys go out to ride in the Grand National, there in the weighing room, those who are about to face in to the danger of 30 massive jumps, whisper to each other "be safe lads".

Be safe lads.

Irish Independent

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