Sunday 24 March 2019

Ireland coach says that if they ask Johnny Sexton to change approach, there is 'no point really in having him'

20 February 2019; Jonathan Sexton during Ireland Rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
20 February 2019; Jonathan Sexton during Ireland Rugby squad training at Carton House in Maynooth, Kildare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The Ireland coaching staff will not ask Johnny Sexton to change the way he plays in a bid to ensure that he stays on the pitch for longer.

Sexton only lasted 23 minutes against Scotland last time out as he was targeted every time he took the ball to the line and eventually had to be replaced.

That the Ireland out-half took the decisive blow that ended his involvement when creating a scantling try for Jacob Stockdale off a set-piece move typified his commitment to the cause.

Since the win at Murrayfield, some have suggested that Sexton must alter his style of play, but Ireland's kicking coach Richie Murphy refuted those claims.

“If he changes he is not the same player,” Murphy insisted.

“He won’t create the holes he creates for other people, then there is no point really in having him.

“It is a twofold thing really; the idea of him changing his game so he can stay on the pitch doesn’t really fit in.

“He needs to play the game he feels is best. He is a confrontational type of character. He wants to play on the gain-line, he wants to create space for others.

“It’s the game he plays. He plays flat on the line. When you play flat on the line you are going to get hit. Obviously we don’t want him off the pitch.

“There is a fine line between what is fair and what isn’t fair and as long as the referees are able to judge that and decide what is right Johnny is not going to change the way he plays that much.

“He created a really good try. That wasn’t the only hit.

“There were other hits there as well. I don’t think he is going to change the way he plays the game.

“He is going to play the game the way he has done for the last number of years, which is part of what made him World Player of the Year. If it brings him to that level I can’t see him going back

away from that.”

Murphy was cautious when asked if Sunday's game against Italy was an ideal chance to hand Joey Carbery his first Six Nations start.

Having only played 103 minutes since Christmas, Sexton is particularly short on game time and the early indication is that he may get the nod ahead of Carbery the trip to Rome.

“With all these games it is about getting the right mix on the pitch,”Murphy maintained.

“Joey obviously played a lot of the Scottish game so it is trying to balance that up with game time for Johnny.

“We’ve watched them training over the last few days. Both guys are in good form. We’ll just make a decision a little bit later on.

“Two guys are competing for a place. As coaches that gives us the opportunity to get them to go against each other a little bit and try and get the best out of both of them.

“Joey has started games for us before (USA, Australia first test, Italy and Fiji). I don’t think he has started a Six Nations game. It would be a natural progression for him at this stage.

“Obviously he came on when Johnny went off very early against Scotland. Probably had a little bit of a shaky start but build into the game.

“Those opportunities when they come along he needs to grasp them with both hands. We need to see where that.”

Murphy reported a clean bill of health for the 32-man squad who were put through their paces this morning at their Kildare base.

Robbie Henshaw, Chris Farrell, Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson all came through the session without any issues and are expected to be in contention for selection when Joe Schmidt names his team to face Italy on Friday. 

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