Neil Francis has called on Andy Farrell to fast-track Leinster out-half Ciarán Frawley into the Ireland set-up to be groomed as Johnny Sexton’s long-term successor ahead of Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne.
Questions have been raised over Sexton’s promotion to the captain’s role following Rory Best's retirement given that the out-half will be 38 by the time the 2023 World Cup takes place. And, speaking on the latest episode of The Left Wing, Independent.ie’s rugby podcast in association with Land Rover, Francis argued that those questions have been amplified after Sexton’s performance at Twickenham last Sunday.
"You got to make some really courageous left-field decisions and just say okay, who's gonna be my main man because I think Johnny was just so far off-kilter," Francis said.
"Do you remember the free play when they had a penalty advantage? And he kicked it to the left-hand side of the field and it went directly into touch when he had Peter O'Mahony chasing it.
"I think that's probably the worst play of Johnny's entire career there. At a moment when you could do 12 things, he took something that wasn't even in the playbook."
Carbery has long been considered the heir apparent to Sexton with his move to Munster aimed at getting him the top-level game-time that Sexton’s incumbency at Leinster was denying him.
But injury problems have been a consistent feature of his time there. The announcement that further surgery was required on the ankle injury he picked up in the first World Cup warm-up match against Italy casts the decision to travel to Japan in further negative light.
Yet Francis believes that even without the injuries, Carbery wouldn’t have been the answer on Sunday and isn’t his prefered option long-term and that looking to youth is the way to go.
And with Ireland due for a summer tour to Australia in July, that provides a perfect opportunity to blood the youngster.
"I think he (Carbery) would have been lost out there last Sunday. I think he would have just blown been away. Even if he was fully fit.
"He's a lovely footballer, but that type of game, he just would have been lost. Maybe his execution would have been a little bit better than Johnny's but I think you're going to have to look outside him.
"I really like the look of Frawley, I really do. And I like Harry Byrne. But Frawley, I just think mentally he's strong and he's physically strong. He's clever too and he has all the skills.
"So if I was Andy Farrell and you're picking your team to go to Australia, you send Joey to a horse whisperer. Off to the rehab guy, Enda King in Santry. And then you pick who you want to be your out-half for the World Cup.
"That's how far ahead you’ve got to plan. I just think Frawley, you can't leave him behind.”