Wednesday 19 June 2019

Simon Zebo expresses 'big concern' for Johnny Sexton but doesn't think Scotland did anything wrong in targeting him

Ireland's Johnny Sexton lies injured against Scotland during the Guinness Six Nations match at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, Edinburgh. Graham Stuart/PA Wire
Ireland's Johnny Sexton lies injured against Scotland during the Guinness Six Nations match at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, Edinburgh. Graham Stuart/PA Wire Newsdesk Newsdesk

Johnny Sexton was substituted after 23 minutes of Ireland's 22-13 victory over Scotland on Saturday after numerous heavy hits but Simon Zebo feels the hosts were just doing what they have to do.

A stray boot from a teammate ultimately caused Sexton to fail a HIA but there has been a lot of focus on the manner of attention given to him by the Scots.

Sexton is frequently referred to when the issue of concussion in rugby is raised. He was stood down for 12 weeks late in 2014 when, as a Racing 92 player, he suffered a number of head injuries inside a short period of time.

Zebo admits he's concerned for his former international teammate.

"It's a big concern. He's one of the best players in the world at the moment. He plays on the edge, he plays up to the line, he's not afraid to take a hit and he'll take it if it means somebody will go through a gap," the Paddy Power ambassador said.

"That's the kind of guy he is, he's a leader and a great player and I hope he gets back fit very fast."

The Cork native believes that flyhalves are always targeted by opposition and it's just part and parcel of the game.

"Teams go to attack certain players. Teams go out and pinpoint a player and say if we get at him today that'll give us a big chance of winning. You'd be naive to think teams don't man-mark or go head-hunting certain players, you have to try and get the best players off their game somehow and if it means hitting them extra hard or bordering on the edge of that fraction too late, that's what teams have to do to win.

"Johnny plays on the line and some teams when they're playing against him, it's probably on the edge as well. That's just the way it is. It's test footy, and it's good to watch."

In Sexton's absence, Joey Carbery recovered from throwing an intercept pass that led to Scotland's only try to steer Ireland home and Zebo believes the experience will stand to the 23-year-old.

"It showed his mental toughness to be able to come back and perform so well in a hostile environment like Murrayfield after helping the other score try like that.

"Obviously, it wouldn't have done much for his confidence but to bounce back like that showed great resilience. He's a great player and he's got the mental strength to back it up."

The Scots were angry over Peter O'Mahony's challenge on Stuart Hogg that led to the full-back going off but Zebo doesn't think it was fatal to Scotland's chances.

"For Peter, it was a close one. I wasn't sure which way I was swinging on it, but in the heat of the moment they're tough decisions to make. It worked out well for Ireland and it probably affected Scotland a little bit, but I think regardless of whether Hoggy is on the pitch or not Ireland were going to win."

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