Rory Best speaks out as Johnny Sexton takes another pummelling

Ireland captain repeatedly asked referee Jerome Garces about English late hits

Part and parcel of the game or unnecessary roughness? Rory Best, Liam Toland and Gerry Thornley examine some of the treatment being dished out to Ireland's Johnny Sexton

 

It cannot be coincidence. Johnny Sexton, if we trawl back through Ireland matches since he was knocked out by Mathieu Bastareaud in 2014, gets targeted early and repeatedly by every opposition.

Because this is the template to beating Ireland and that’s why Chicago remains such a stunning victory. You beat Sexton to a pulp.

Rory Best made a point of bringing the relentless late tackles to the attention of referee Jerome Garces on a number of occasions. On 62 minutes the Ireland captain had seen enough.

“Our 10 is constantly getting hit late,” said Best.

Garces responded that he can only act on what he sees as Sexton dug deep to find the strength to regain his feet and kick the penalty that made it 13-6 to Ireland.

“I have a responsibility to my team,” Best continued. “They are targeting Johnny. I’ll get it in the neck from Joe if I don’t say it.”

Maro Itoje had milled him late. Owen Farrell slammed him into the grass. James Haskell, who was remorselessly targeted by green hulks himself, also got a shot in. The last one came from Tom Wood. All enormous, hard men.

Sexton got up every time. After one ruck, when legitimately collared by Itoje – who read the old Irish loop – he was crushed under a ruck, his entire body rattled to its core.

And still he played the entire 80 minutes.

“(Garces) kept saying the TMO [Ben Skeen from New Zealand] was keeping an eye on it,” said Best. “He was saying his job and the job of his assistants and TMO was to look after the players. All I was saying was it was my job as captain was to make sure our players were looked after and if I felt they weren’t. I had to put on a bit of pressure to make sure they were or I would be getting it from Joe.”

A slight insight into the relationship between Emperor and General.

Joe gave us his best grin.

“Look, in really tough Test matches you try to be as close to the line as you can be,” Best continued. “I don’t think it was anything other than trying to put pressure on Johnny. But we have to look after our players. A key player like Johnny, we know we have Paddy who has performed unbelievable in this championship, but you don’t want players going off unnecessarily.”

Schmidt concurred: “We will reference it. There were a few neck rolls again, like last week, that maybe those things have slipped out of vogue a bit. I was watching a bit of Super Rugby this morning and there were a few high shots. It is an initiative that we hope will continue to be driven hard.”

Of course he was watching what the Kiwis were at. The man never sleeps.

But this is serious as Sexton, for all the credit Paddy Jackson had gained, is central to this Ireland team’s success, more so than any other player before him.

So the actions of opponents will probably never change.

“He’s a competitor,” Best added. “The best thing you can say is that I definitely prefer playing with him in the green of Ireland than against him when he’s at Leinster. He’s a nightmare to play against.

“He just has a will to win, a few outhalves around have that too, especially in the northern hemisphere.

“He’s a great guy to have. As much as anything, what you see on the pitch, that edge that you need to win tight games and get over the line, Johnny off the pitch is a really great guy. Jacko is certainly learning from him in the way he is around the team. They’re the sort of leaders you want. I hope he doesn’t read the headline but that’s what you need: real warriors on the pitch but real humble, good guys off the pitch.”

That matters too.

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