Sexton’s inability to kick creates conundrum for Ireland
Kicking coach Murphy admits it’s balancing act to keep flyhalf in action but out of trouble
Keeping an injured Sexton on the field, until Ireland secured the bonus point against Scotland, put a spotlight on Murray’s goal-kicking. Photograph: Craig Mercer/Inpho
Ireland kicking coach Richie Murphy: “A decision was made that Besty was able to go the 80. He got a bit of a shock when we told him.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ronan O’Gara confirms a general fear about Johnny Sexton’s wellbeing.
“Ireland need Johnny to kick to win a World Cup,” O’Gara told OTB. “In cup rugby you are going to need a few three, six, nine points to keep the scoreboard ticking, and he’s the best at that.”
Ominously, O’Gara cut through the conjecture.
“I’m saying ‘Johnny you are kicking.’ If he can’t kick he is probably going to have to come off.”
Right now, in the middle of week two of the 2019 World Cup, Sexton would have to come off.
Richie Murphy will sit and defend his men all day long. The Ireland kicking coach handled a volley of questions on Tuesday about Sexton, Conor Murray’s inaccurate place-kicking, and the simmering rivalry Jack Carty has created with Joey Carbery.
A coach can pretend a situation does not exist – as the Irish management are wont to do (exhibit A: Robbie Henshaw) – or, like Murphy, stare down his inquisitors.
Ireland’s water carrier understands the kicker’s body and mind having sent a generation of club warriors away home with shoulders slumped having put three, six, nine points on them. Wore plenty of colours in his time; Pres Bray, Greystones, Clontarf, Carlow and Old Belvedere can bicker over who gets to commission the bust should Murphy still be whispering in Johnny’s or even Joey’s ear come November 2nd.
The Ireland management are playing down the injury scare suffered by the world player of the year but the fact remains that the 34-year-old was unable to kick for goal after hurting himself before Tadhg Furlong’s 25th-minute try broke Scotland last Sunday in Yokohama.
Sexton was held back on Tuesday at the Yumera Grounds in the isolated Iwata outpost of Shizuoka. That’s the reality – at his third major tournament, Ireland’s star turn is struggling with injury.
“That wouldn’t be unusual for him not to train two days after a Test match,” said Murphy.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a dangerous game to play at the World Cup. Keeping an injured Sexton on the field, until Ireland secured the bonus point against Scotland, put a spotlight on Murray’s goal-kicking. He missed two of three attempts in the comfortable 27-3 victory but that risk only heightens in a quarter-final against South Africa on October 20th.
“[Murray] missed one from the touchline and one from the 10-metre line,” Murphy replied. “It is a balance, yeah, but we’re happy to get Johnny on the pitch and we’ve every faith in Conor as a goal-kicker.
“When you get a bang in the quad as a kicker it can affect your goal-kicking. He was fully fine to do everything else and kicked out of hand with no problem. Kicking off the ground is actually a different muscle group that you’re using.”
Murphy effectively told a swollen room of attentive local and travelling media that Ireland will lean heavily on their overall squad to beat the hosts this Saturday in Shizuoka.
“There could be some rotation in it but it will be a very strong team purely focused on beating Japan.”
Carbery is straining at the leash, six weeks after turning his ankle, but Carty’s bag of kicking tricks makes a compelling argument to keep him in the match-day squad. Maybe both will feature.
“It is a balance, you’re right,” said Murphy to another question about managing Sexton. “The one thing is the evidence of what we’ve seen before, that he can come in and play fresh and do a really good job. We have great faith in the other guys anyway.”
Regarding Rory Best playing 80 minutes against Scotland – an outstanding performance by a 37-year-old winning his 121st cap – the decision was somewhat forced upon the Ireland management.
“A couple of guys were carrying niggles,” said Murphy, presumably in reference to Seán Cronin and Niall Scannell, who did replace Josh van der Flier on 74 minutes. “More bumps than niggles, so a decision was made that Besty was able to go the 80. He got a bit of a shock when we told him.”