Finn Russell’s maverick nature falters against Johnny Sexton’s ice man

‘We are playing for our jerseys and trying to get on Lions tours, there’s so much at stake’

Johnny Sexton, Irish captain speaks at the post match press conference following Ireland’s 27-24 defeat of Scotland at Murrayfield. Video: IRFU/VOTN

 

No head shaking in disgust or killer stare at the coaching box, Ireland’s captain went all 80 minutes to deliver when it really mattered.

Johnny Sexton has been strumming this tune since November 2009. He only went and slotted the match winning penalty at a blustery Murrayfield when a draw would have landed another heavy blow to Andy Farrell’s management.

“It was brilliant by Ryan Baird wasn’t it?” said Sexton of the block down on Scotland scrumhalf Ali Price that led to Iain Henderson’s poach near the left touchline. “He’s so explosive.”

Ireland have a 73 per cent winning record under Sexton’s leadership - eight wins from 11 - which could have been better if he finished every game (Andy Farrell’s record as head coach in the same period is 62 per cent). One of those three defeats happened when the outhalf was punting water bottles on the touchline in Paris, another was an all-consuming Twickenham experience, with the third being an undeniable collapse after his substitution in Cardiff.

No Billy Burns cameo here. No minutes for Conor Murray either. Sexton - all 35 years of him - was needed by his country as much as the moment he slipped into the 10 jersey ahead of Ronan O’Gara to kick the life out of the Springboks 12 years ago.

The Tom Brady narrative reborn! Negotiations to extend his one year deal are automatically reopened. Contractually, the IRFU are effectively gambling on Joey Carbery’s brittle bones as they enter year three of a Rugby World Cup cycle.

“We are playing for our jerseys and trying to get on Lions tours,” Sexton admitted afterwards. “There is so much at stake.”

Maverick

Warren Gatland brought Murrayfield’s official attendance to a total of one. He watched as Finn Russell’s maverick nature faltered against Sexton’s ice man and could only leave Edinburgh with a singular conclusion.

The idea that these games are Lions trials is amplified when Owen Farrell and George Ford visit Dublin next Saturday.

“Even though England have had a couple of bad results they were in a World Cup final, they won the Six Nations last year and they won the Autumn Nations Cup - that makes them a top, top team,” added Sexton.

“We have to prove we can match them and put in a performance to beat one of the top teams because we have not done that as of yet.”

Paul O’Connell’s fingerprints - as a technical coach and not the ferocious captain of old - were all over this performance, with Ireland’s defensive lineout torturing Scotland to such an extent that it really should not have been a one score result.

“The impact he has had is pretty clear, isn’t it? Against Wales we played with seven forwards and the lads were still outstanding.

“Faz and Paulie work really hard with the forwards. You saw some of that today, where they were tipping the ball on and punching into holes. It’s just what we do after that is what we need to get better at.

“It is the same old story sometimes with us,” he added, “letting in soft tries that are not acceptable at international level.”

Sexton’s captaincy is established now, even if time is constantly pursuing him, with perhaps one last fight against England at Lansdowne road and one last chance to make a third Lions tour. These are the stakes he speaks about.

England just stalled the French revolution. Murrayfield proved for the umpteenth time in the past 12 years that Ireland are overly dependent on Sexton at the helm until the final whistle sounds. The head shaking makes more sense now.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.