Thursday 17 October 2019

'He's a ready-made replacement' - How Leinster have set up their 'succession plan' for Johnny Sexton

Jonathan Sexton, left, and head coach Leo Cullen. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton, left, and head coach Leo Cullen. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

John Morley

Johnny Sexton was a notable omission from the Leinster team in their fifteen-point defeat of Munster in the Pro14 semi-final, with Leo Cullen opting to start Ross Byrne instead.

With the Leinster back-room team insisting that Sexton was merely being rested following the Champions Cup final against Saracens, his absence did allow Byrne to don the number ten jersey for a crucial game.

Former Ireland international Luke Fitzgerald doesn't think that Byrne gets the credit he deserves playing for Leinster and speaking on the Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast, he paid tribute to the out-half's performance against Munster.

"[Byrne] is actually brilliant, he's so underrated, he's a really really good rugby player and he got five out of five kicks," Fitzgerald said.

"Look, Johnny [Sexton] is defintiely ahead of him but I'm telling you the gap has closed, that guy is a good player and everyone's on about Jack Carty, he's a better player than Jack Carty."

Fitzgerald applauded Byrne's decision-making and maturity and thinks that Leinster have positioned him as Johnny Sexton's successor for when the World Rugby Player of the Year decides to hang up his boots.

"He's a big game player, he's got a head on his shoulder, he's a guy who I think is a ready-made replacement for Johnny Sexton. He still doesn't get enough big games together with that centre partnership, so it doesn't really flow as well as it should, but I think that will flow.

"I think it looks like [Leinster] have got a succession plan in there already, I think [they] are managing that really, really well."

Fitzgerald conceded that Byrne will not be taking the number ten from Sexton in the immediate future as Leo Cullen will still look to his experienced veterans for the big clashes to get them over the line.

"[Sexton] is the team captain, I think it's very important to have the lines of communication open with your senior players," he said.

"I can see the value in it, you do have to have those people where you know in the big games they'll be good but also trust them to give key messages to the guys."

For Fitzgerald it is of utmost importance for the Leinster selectors to communicate with Sexton regarding Byrne getting the nod ahead of him, as it is the best way to keep the squad together is through clarity.

"It would be a mistake not to keep Johnny in the loop and say 'Look, we'd love to give Ross a go, we also think he's a very good player, but we know you're our number one guy', so I think its a good thing to communicate those things to guys."

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