Ireland coach Andy Farrell confirms Johnny Sexton could make second Test

Farrell reveals after opening Test defeat that Sexton passed his HIA 2 after going off in first half

Andy Farrell has repeated his belief that Johnny Sexton may well, after all, be deemed healthy and fit enough to lead Ireland against New Zealand in the second Test in Dunedin next Saturday.

The Irish outhalf and captain departed in the 31st minute after a knock to the head when slipping and colliding into Sam Cane’s knee with his head, and did not reappear, with Sky Sports in New Zealand reporting that he had failed his HIA, with Joey Carbery playing the last 50 minutes of the match.

In light of World Rugby’s recommendation that players who suffer concussion are stood down for 12 days, it was presumed that Sexton would be ruled out of the second Test, but Farrell revealed afterwards that Sexton had passed his HIA 2 and will hopefully pass his HIA 3 as well.

That begged the question as to why Sexton didn’t return to the pitch.

“Because they tested him and deemed him not fit to go on because there’s all different sort of tests that go on,” explained Farrell. “You can stumble in your studs, you know, and not go off. But Johnny is fine in there. HIA 2 is passed, HIA 3 will hopefully be passed in a few days. If that happens, it’s concussion not confirmed.”

Farrell also confirmed that Dave Heffernan did suffer concussion and thus will be ruled out of consideration for the next week, while Ed Byrne was due to land sometime on Sunday morning, and that Stuart McCloskey was also summoned to replace his Ulster team-mate James Hume.

Sexton’s departure came in the immediate wake of the converted intercept try by Sevu Reece which pushed the All Blacks 14-5 in front and sparked a three-try salvo in a nine-minute spell which decided the match.

“That’s the game. Injuries are part of it. We are here to find out about ourselves and find out about the personnel that we’ve got as well, so opportunities arose for Joey,” said Farrell. “What happens on the back of that in regards to your bench, it changes things a little bit. You’ve got to hold Conor [Murray] back etc. But we are here to find out about the personnel that we’ve got, and there is no better place to do that than New Zealand.”

Asked whether he could figure out why that 21-point salvo happened, Farrell said: “Oh yeah, I can figure it out. I don’t need to figure it out. Watch the game. That’s what they do to you, isn’t it? You can be attacking lovely and think that you’re flowing pretty well and all of a sudden, you take your eye off the ball for one second and there’s an intercept if you’re not quite accurate enough or quick enough or aggressive enough at the wide breakdown. Before you know it you’re under your posts again.

“Some of the tries that they scored they didn’t have to work too hard for them. And on the back of that there was some decent rugby from u, but you switch off for a second and you pay for it. The scoreline was obviously too big at half-time, wasn’t it?”

That said, Farrell believed there were positives in the Irish performance, especially in their attack.

“I thought we broke them down pretty well from time to time. I think we deserve a bit of a pat on the back for that, for getting, I reckon, at least five opportunities to score.

“Now obviously we’ll have a look at reasons why we actually didn’t convert them but there was a few held up, wasn’t there? A few that were deemed short, or whatever. And a knock-on, or a fumble, the grounding wasn’t right on Joey, apparently. I’ve seen them given before but anyway, that’s a different story,” said Farrell ruefully, clearly believing, like Carbery himself, he had grounded the ball in the second half before the TMO Marius van der Westhuizen deemed was “not in control of the ball”.

Peter O’Mahony assumed the captaincy from Sexton and became increasingly frustrated with the officiating at the scrum and the breakdown, and specifically with a no-arms high shot by Scott Barrett on the Munster backrower himself, which somehow neither the referee Karl Dickson nor the TMO reviewed.

In acknowledging how clinical the All Blacks were, their counterattacking game and their aggression at the breakdown, Farrell added: “The interpretation of the breakdown over here, whether it be over here or the refereeing – we need some answers as far as that’s concerned, so we can put our own stuff right, because there was a few things going on there that will need to be clarified.

“There is a depth to a ruck and there is an entry to a ruck that we need confirming, let’s say it that way. Once it’s confirmed, we will get our own act in order.”

Andrew Porter, who played the full 80, incurred the displeasure of Dickson at a few scrums and Farrell said: “They certainly went after us there. There was a few things, not just set piece, that we’ll obviously go through the right channels and get answers for. But obviously we’ll assess our own performance in the set piece first and see what we could have done better.”

In addition to going 1-0 down in the series, Ireland missed out in their ambition of ending the All Blacks’ unbeaten record at Eden Park, dating back to 1994, which has now been extended to 47 matches.

“We are gutted to lose. You don’t get many opportunities to break a record and it’s an outstanding record. You can see why they hold that here. But we are gutted to lose. Having said that, the players know what they did well and they know how the game flowed and things that we need to fix to stay in a series for next week.

“It isn’t a dejected changing room. It’s one that will dust itself off, learn the lessons and attack next week.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times