The Big Irish Half-Back Debate

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.

By Killian Woods

3 thoughts on “The Big Irish Half-Back Debate

  1. As a Leinster supporter I find Reddan imensly frustrating. He crabs sideways across the pitch taking space away from the backs. Some people argue this is offset by his “sniping”, but lets be honest, he hasn’t made a break in years. The last good game I recall him having was Llanelli away in the HC last December. Boss has been far better this year, both improving his pass from the base of rucks (watch the Connacht away match) and making breaks directly leading to tries (Connacht and Cardiff matches). He deserves a shot far more than Reddan! Stringer too has been very good this year and I have no problem with him being given another go. In fact, I would have liked to see him play with Sexton this week. We all know what ROG can do, so the more game time Sexton gets to improve his international experience the better, whether it be with Boss or Stringer I really don’t mind.

  2. Jason, I have to say I agree. I am a ROG fan and there is no doubt what he can do, so why start him against Samoa? I really felt it should be Stringer Sexton there, and if all went well then bring in Boss. Surely they have enough time together to inter-change. ROG came on against SA and is credited with the turn around but we all know that the game had changed so much by then that this is not accurate. Reddin I think should be cut loose now as he has not performed at the level required. I would prefer to see Humphries get some game time as we cant totally rely on Sexton, he is human and throws himself into games and can easily get injured again.

    I hope that Sexton starts against the All Blacks as he brings so much in physicality and these big games will stand to him in the future of which he is the holder of the position for Ireland.
    After Samoa ROG and Stringer did not set the place on fire at all, and Sexton was not brought on… so I have faith in Declan Kidney that he felt we could get through to win without exposing Sexton to injury and believe he will start Sexton against NZ.
    God Ireland really need a performance on Saturday and the belief will return to the men in green.

  3. Guys, I agree with you on selection of Sexton, and I’m glad he was picked for tomorrow’s game. I’m a Munster man but I have to say that his physical presence far out weighs that of O’Gara’s. O’Gara is not the best tackler in the world and as I’m sure most will agree, having watched the Scotland game over the weekend, we can’t afford any gaps in defense.
    At scrum half it really should have been Stringer. His precise, and quick passing is what Ireland are going to need to need to give Sexton time to create some magic in the back line. He also has an uncanny ability to motivate the pack, something that is definitely going to be required as we can’t afford any turnover ball, and we’ll be up against one of the best in the business, in the form of McCaw, at doing this come Saturday. Reddan is too slow and his passing leaves alot to be desired.

    I’m not sure I agree with Killian on the fact that the half back pairing for the world cup will be a Sexton – Reddan one. If all goes well O’Leary should be back after Christmas, and although he wasn’t displaying his best performances in the games leading up to his injury I still feel he has to be the fore runner for the scrum half position for the world cup.

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