Schmidt stands firm on Sexton’s fitness

Ireland manager says he has not spoken to Racing Metro about outhalf’s inclusion to face the All Blacks

Head coach Joe Schmidt and press officer David O Siochain make their way into today’s press conference, followed by team manager Mick Kearney (left) and captain Paul O’Connell. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Head coach Joe Schmidt and press officer David O Siochain make their way into today’s press conference, followed by team manager Mick Kearney (left) and captain Paul O’Connell. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 16:30

The clarity of thought Joe Schmidt relays to the media should be enough to buy the Irish coach some time. No matter what transpires this Sunday against an All Black team on the cusp of the perfect year.

Take the Jonathan Sexton situation. Having so clearly pulled up with a hamstring problem before half-time last Saturday, Ireland’s undisputed number one outhalf was going to be replaced by Paddy Jackson if he had failed this morning’s fitness test.

He passed, so Jackson is out of the match day squad because Ian Madigan is better equipped to cover Sexton, Gordon D’Arcy and possibly even Rob Kearney in the event of injury.

How do we know all this? Schmidt told us as much.

“If Johnny didn’t take the pitch then Paddy Jackson would have started at 10. I think Paddy did very well against Samoa so we would have confidence in him.”

Madigan? “Again, it is just coverage. If we get an injury to somebody like Gordon D’Arcy.”

The Sexton hamstring, more so than Brian O’Driscoll’s calf and Kearney’s ribs, is a serious concern as the second half against Australia proved.

It can all be traced back to the inability of the IRFU and Fintan Drury to agree upon a number that would have kept the 28-year-old in Dublin.

It was queried whether Racing Metro 92 had been on regarding Sexton’s selection.

“They haven’t spoken to me and I haven’t spoken to them about Johnny playing 13 games in 12 weeks either,” said Schmidt. “You assess the player, the player passes the fitness test.

“Johnny’s discomfort was more about knowing he was going to have to leave the field rather than the hamstring. The hamstring was a pretty mild injury but there is always a risk.

“It’s about trying to manage that risk and get the best players out there . . . he trained fully today.”

End of story. For now.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has made seven changes, five in the pack, from the side that won at Twickenham. Brodie Retallick is undoubtedly the superior lock to Luke Romano, on current form, but every other change looks a genuine challenge to the incumbent.

That even applies to Aaron Cruden, for the actually hamstrung Dan Carter, while the emotional selection of Andrew Hore for his final first class game of rugby will not weaken them at hooker.

“I don’t know that it matters what side they pick.”

So there is no hope, none at all?

“I think if you look at the talent we have in the team, if we play to the top of our game we certainly can win,” said captain Paul O’Connell. “That’s the question we have been asking ourselves all week.”

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