Monday 18 December 2017

Neil Francis: What price Ireland if anything happens to Jonny Sexton?

Out-half as crucial to our prospects as banned Brady is to New England Patriots

Keeping Jonathan Sexton fit is crucial to Joe Schmidt’s World Cup plans
Keeping Jonathan Sexton fit is crucial to Joe Schmidt’s World Cup plans
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

The on-going palaver, public resentment and political chicanery of the water charges - yet another far-reaching public scandal - I think I will call it Watergate, that's an apt name for it all.

Sorry we've already had a 'Watergate' you say? Burglars breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington? Leaked tapes? Lies in the White House? Corruption? Impeachment of the President of the United States. Jail Sentences. Begob - a real scandal.

Stick the suffix 'gate' on to the back of a noun and you have a fully-fledged scandal. Frannogate? Too late, it happened back in 2014. Any other 'gates' floating around at the minute?

A goodly number of you would have heard of 'Deflategate' in the NFL at this stage. Back in January in the AFC Conference play-off game the New England Patriots (my team) blitzed the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. As the scoreline suggests it was not a contest and the Patriots posted 28 unanswered points in the second half. It was compelling evidence of New England's offensive capabilities.

After the match it was discovered that most of the match balls had been marginally deflated. The official NFL ball has to have a gauge pressure of between 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi) - a wide enough range. One ball was measured at 11.5 psi but the rest of the other regulation quota of seven balls had a pressure gauge somewhere not too far from 12.5 psi. In terms of a competitive advantage the margin of favour would be negligible. Remember, both teams would be playing with the same ball(s).

Less air in the ball would make it easier to throw and easier to catch. It would though make it harder to kick and more difficult to punt.

You'd never have that sort of blackguardism in rugby - well actually yes we did! In 2011 blessed Saint Wilko of Toulon's minions on the sideline changed the ball type when he was taking his place-kicks. It was noticed and RWC banged a one-game ban in the direction of the hapless minions.

Jonny, meanwhile, walked free to continue to spread grace and enlightenment to the rugby world.

The NFL a withering shower of invertebrates decided to take unusually strong action after an investigation and official report pointed the finger of blame at star quarterback and four-time Superbowl champion Tom Brady - in this humble writer's opinion, the best ever.

There was complicity with back-room minions but Brady (left) got a four-game ban (a quarter of the season). Quite a number of NFL players have received shorter bans for physically assaulting their spouse - that is of course only when it ever reached the public domain.

A four-game ban for his part in a 'scandal' where the ball is 2-3pc short of where it should be in terms of air pressure is a misplaced overreaction.

The 'rules are rules' brigade think differently, though, and the debate and drama continue.

What was of real importance was how vested interests reacted to the news.

Jay Rood may not be known to many of you but he establishes the book for American Football in practically all the major gambling concerns in Las Vegas.

He is a man who would have to be a pretty sharp cookie and be aware of every nuance, every injury, every drug habit, every legal case coming out of the NFL before they have become public knowledge.

The end game in last year's Superbowl was a sensation - you just couldn't write it. New England won and weeks later Rood had the Patriots with pretty much their entire roster intact and a few key additions installed at 5/1 favourites for the 2016 Superbowl.

Weeks later the Patriots lynchpin got a four-game ban and the bookies dropped them from clear favourites down to 9/1.

Such is Brady's value to the team that with a quarter of his season taken away, the odds nearly doubled.

Now there is the likelihood of an injunction taken against the NFL, and typically Vegas has opened a book on whether Brady will succeed with his action. He is 2/1 to win the injunction.

If he does, the Patriots go back to 5/1 and the punters who baled in at 9/1 are happy.

Meanwhile, back in Dublin Paddy Power have Ireland at 8/1 to win the World Cup. Eight to Jayzus one - with those odds you can divine that our esteemed bookmakers think that Ireland are contenders.

New Zealand are rightly installed as 11/8 favourites. Australia are very good value at 9/1 with France at 14/1, which is also a little generous given that it is a six-horse race.

A lot of people fancy Ireland to beat France and that is why our price is so tight, but the odds shoot out from 8/1 to 33/1 if Ireland do not win their pool.

You don't have to live in Baker street to figure out why. Ireland are 1/40 to make the quarter-finals and 5/6 to make the semis. Oppressive expectation levels even from the bookies.

We really do fancy ourselves but what about the Brady factor?

Johnny Sexton is Ireland's best player and lynchpin. He is Ireland's most important player. He is playing in the most influential position and most importantly he has a very good man inside of him.

Track record

Sexton has a good track record in tournaments. He played in all of Ireland's games in the last World Cup - Declan Kidney chose to start with Ronan O'Gara for the Italy and Wales games, even though Sexton had started in the critical Pool win over Australia.

Sexton played in all the important Lions games in 2013 in Australia.

In recent years, he has had to contend with long-term injuries, including concussion.

But 90pc of Ireland's out-field intelligence nestles safely under Sexton's crown. He is Ireland's on-field executioner of Joe Schmidt's game-plan.

He is a diviner of inspiration and a leader of men. He is also a narky git and determined to the point of being awkward - great qualities when you want to win the pot.

If he gets injured Ireland are gone. Ireland drop from 8/1 to win the World Cup final to 14/1 if Sexton plays no part. Paddy Power know his importance.

I wonder what Jay Rood back in Vegas would make of it all.

Even if Sexton stays healthy and plays well I don't like our odds and what it does to our heads. It mightn't be a bad idea to lose to Wales this Saturday and England next weekend to loosen the weight of expectation.

I can see it now: Ireland lose sensationally to Wales and England . . . players swear that they weren't told to 'take it easy' . . . straightforward penalties missed. . . balls dropped going over the line . . . Las Vegas syndicate suspected in betting coup. . . Joegate.

Irish Independent

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