There was little to quibble about in Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad this week. And anyway, the majority of interview minutes were consumed by an unofficial inquiry into L’affaire Sexton.
The captain’s petulant reaction to being subbed in Paris proved an act of prescient disgust as Ireland collapsed about 30 seconds after Sexton stopped shaking his head.
The overall squad narrative makes sense: Ross Byrne and Billy Burns are the official Sexton understudies while – wink, wink – Harry Byrne and Ben Healy get busy living in provincial colours. Same applies to Craig Casey’s growth into Conor Murray’s long-term successor.
Maybe this period will be remembered for performances away from the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup. The continued exclusion of Simon Zebo and Rhys Ruddock was mentioned, but neither argument carried much weight with Farrell.
There is a sliding-doors case that has Ruddock with 80-odd caps rather than 12 international starts since his teenage debut in 2010. The raw power and natural leadership was on show against Ospreys on Sunday but, historically, such displays are followed by injury lay-offs. Perhaps the body will stop breaking when he turns 30 this Friday.
“We think Rhys is a great player, a physical specimen,” said Farrell before naming Jack Conan and Tadhg Beirne as alternative blindsides behind CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony and Caelan Doris.
The Ireland team will keep changing until Farrell sees his own notorious hard edge and “ruthless mindset” in the players he selects. If Ruddock keeps bullying Pro14 opponents, and stays healthy, a recall might prove irresistible.
Congratulations, Rhys. Few who receive this honour ever hear about it, nor do they care, but an impressive return to the land of your father makes you Offloader of the Week.
In search of the lesser-spotted rugby sevens
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? That philosophical conundrum sprang to mind as we read about, but were unable to witness, the “inaugural” sevens series that concluded in Dublin on Saturday.
Or did it? Here’s what we know: Leinster are completely disinterested, comfortably losing all four games, but Ireland and Ulster drew 19-19 in the, eh, big one.
This begs some questions: if a sevens tournament happens but IRFU TV do not show it, does sevens rugby actually exist in Ireland? Maybe they do not want the public to see the standard.
Also, when is the female version? The Black Ferns “possibles” whipped the probables on Saturday in North Harbour stadium, Auckland. You can watch it on YouTube. A peek behind the curtain is the new “content” trend in rugby but suspicious Ireland have yet to properly react. England and France lead the way with some excellent footage of Maro Itoje at training and compelling changing room discussions, while the Springboks and All Blacks do love a propaganda-fuelled documentary.
The IRFU has the expert visual and editorial staff to promote various strands of its game, but the best they were allowed offer was a flicker of action and post-match interviews about a tournament nobody has seen. The inaugural sevens series cannot simply exist on the page, there must be unedited evidence. Otherwise it is a fallen tree in a silent wood.
Women’s game gets a boost from Pacific four
Ireland finishing third in the Six Nations could provide a massive boost to the development of the national team. The Sunday Times is reporting that "plans are being finalised which – post-Covid – will see the top three teams" in the championship play an autumn tournament against the top three from the newly formed "Pacific four" of New Zealand, Australia, United States and Canada.
The mini world cup will even have a grand final. The plan is to roll it out in 2022 as the actual World Cup is scheduled to take place in New Zealand next year.
Now all Ireland have to do is qualify, although uncertainty remains about next month’s qualification competition. Fingers are still being crossed on that one but finishing third in the Six Nations is more than doable every season and it would expose Ciara Griffin’s team to what they crave above all else: serious, regular fixtures against the best sides on the planet. Hopefully this is real.
By the numbers
2030 Sanzaar, the rugby body for the four nations of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, has agreed to keep the Rugby Championship afloat for "10 more years" despite the South African franchises moving to Europe.
Word of mouth
“I just want to say I am not in favour of Donald Trump. I am not making a case to re-elect him. I am explaining why people would vote for him. I wouldn’t vote for him myself. I want to make that clear.” RTÉ gives Eddie O’Sullivan a political platform on Claire Byrne Live.
“The last time we played Georgia with Japan before the 2015 World Cup, we played with nine forwards against the strength of their pack and we may consider doing that again.” Eddie Jones does his thinking outside the box, again.
“The hearing into the doping charges against Springbok rugby player Aphiwe Dyantyi concluded after two days of testimonies by expert witnesses and closing arguments from both the athlete and prosecution. The athlete was charged with a doping violation in August 2019. The independent panel will now deliberate on the evidence and render a decision within the next few weeks.” The South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport sees some light at the end of the country’s latest doping case.
“No matter how much people tell me I am not good, as long as I am still being picked by coaches and they are saying, ‘I still believe in you,’ I am going to believe I am good enough.” Jacob Stockdale keeps the faith despite Paris.
“The joint-venture members – Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – are committed to the championship and to its continued evolution, where future growth and expansion form part of a revised 10-year plan.” Sanzaar retains its existence until 2030
L’affaire Sexton – oui, il est désolé
"I'm sure he's regretful of that and I hope he had a quiet word with his coach and apologises, which Johnny Sexton has had trouble doing in the past."
Former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll
"It is not the first apology I have made in my career and it won't be the last, probably."
Sexton is very sorry.
"We need Johnny to be himself and there is always going to be learnings along the way, but you are not going to change overnight a person who has been at the top because of the intent and attitude he has got."
Ireland coach Andy Farrell