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Friday 9 December 2016

Ireland have the slightest of edges and Jonny Sexton's determined to exploit it

Henshaw doubtful as Cave set for Romania

Jonathan Sexton
Jonathan Sexton
Joe Schmidt

Jonathan Sexton is more, so much more, than Joe Schmidt's out-half for Ireland.

It is the way he plays the position, not just the position he is in.

You see, there is a symmetry of thought and play-by-play observation that, in one way, allows Schmidt to exist inside the whitewashed rectangle as well as oversee all the instruments outside of it.

They are one and the same when it comes to the game.

The coach wrote the script and the official man of the match directed the show for the expected 50-7 crushing of Canada at The Millennium Stadium in which the bonus-point was secured by Dave Kearney in the 37th minute.

There is an outside chance this will come into play when Ireland engage France on October 11, back at the home of Welsh rugby.

Philippe Saint-Andre's monstrous men could not squeeze out four tries against the belligerent, confrontational Italians at Twickenham.

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Ireland have the slightest of edges in Pool D. For now.

Back to 'The Joe and Johnny Show'.

In the past, Sexton has spoken on how he often hears Schmidt's voice in his head when deeply immersed in the heat of battle.

It is a work relationship in which the coach knows he has a man who can take his instructions and use them within a framework that is designed with multiple options.

The canny knack Sexton has gained through innate footballing intelligence and experience means he will choose the right one, more often than not.

Thereafter, the execution of the choice is the final layer that requires a refined set of skills.

All of this is encapsulated in a detailed post-match analysis of overall performance, first crudely distilled by the 'man in the street' into the broad brush-stroke of having 'a blinder' or 'a stinker' or somewhere in between.

Schmidt's immediate review of Sexton on Saturday came with sunshine and rain on his parade.

First came the compliment.

"I think he passed 500 points in international rugby, which is a real milestone for him," said Schmidt.

"It's hugely deserved for the amount of effort he puts in to make sure he's prepared."

Then, came the reprimand.

"He will reflect on the game; the first wide pass he made looped into touch.

"It was a perfect opportunity. It was the right decision but he didn't quite affect it accurately enough.

"He will probably chastise himself for that in amongst about 30 really positive involvements."

And, finally, the reflection.

"That's the way he is driven. That's the way he drives the team which is a real bonus as well."

A bonus for Ireland. A real bonus for Schmidt.

It was no co-incidence that Ireland's back play looked sharper because Sexton looked sharper.

There is a long way to go and quite a long time to get there as the brutality of the sport demands there is the guts of a week in between the various battles that will ensue.

Thankfully, Ireland came away unscathed from Canada with Robbie Henshaw's hamstring the outstanding injury issue.

fact

The fact that Schmidt admitted Darren Cave would be involved for Ireland against Romania next Sunday could lead down a 'bad diagnosis' road for the Athlone man.

Then again, Cave has played many times for Ulster at outside centre and is not nailed-on to play at 12.

The business of second-guessing Schmidt is an unrewarding one.

The New Zealander will have all bases covered as evidenced by the chat the coach had last season with Ian Madigan about attending to the basics of the scrum-half position.

 

 

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