Ireland coach Declan Kidney has decided to make key changes throughout the team for the upcoming game against Samoa. None more evident than the change at half-back which sees Leinster’s Jonathon Sexton and Eoin Reddan sacrificed for the more experienced Munster pairing of Ronan O’Gara and Peter Stringer.
For me, this is a disappointing change to see.
It shows a lack of trust in the younger Leinster combination and an unwillingness to let the internationally unseasoned Sexton bed into the position. Although at the same time, it can be argued that the change is deserved due to O’Gara and Stringer’s heroics against South Africa.
O’Gara and Stringer
Their best asset was blatantly obvious to every onlooker of last weekend’s game. The sheer pace and liveliness the Munster duo bring to Ireland’s play gave their team the initiative for the closing stages of the game and put South Africa on the back foot.
This pace coupled with an unwavering enthusiasm gives Ireland a fearless attribute at half-back that sees many risks being taken. All eyes are on the rewards from these ventures with little regard for the consequences. This was evident in the build up to Ireland’s two tries. First a kick to the corner that had a lucky bounce which aided Tommy Bowe and second a looping pass out to Kearney nearly intercepted by Gio Aplon.
As mentioned, their risk-taking can jeopardise any team’s attacking moves. O’Gara has been on the wrong end of many embarrassing intercepts in his time and mostly from positions of great attacking threat. This and his inability to tackle doesn’t look good for any side up against a mighty Southern Hemisphere power.
Another not so evident weakness is their age: their potential ability to keep up with international rugby in a year’s time must be forecasted accurately.
Sexton and Reddan
On his game, Sexton is as big a risk-taker as his fly-half competitor. He has displayed a tempered cockiness during his career so far at Leinster that sees him play to the gainline in most of his overall ambitious play. Sexton’s kicking game from a place kick matches that of O’Gara and his open play ability to gain ground through kicking is better than O’Gara’s.
Admittedly he can let the occasion get to him at times, although this is a factor that can be shepherded out of his game through much game practice at this level. This is why game time for the young fly-half is essential in these kind of test games against Samoa.
The inability of Reddan to provide Sexton with quick ball last weekend can be blamed on many people, but clearly it stunted the performance of both players. Reddan and Sexton are more likely to be the half-back pairing come next year’s World Cup and should be given adequate game time at this level to bed in.
Ireland’s coaching staff will soon have to resist temptation to revert to old ways and allow Sexton to find his feet in international rugby. The Leinster fly-half is the future and if not given chances to build his confidence, will fall among other discarded players, cast away for a few bad performances.