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Friday 20 September 2019

Fingers crossed that Johnny stays fit

Sexton has missed all Ireland’s warm-up games so far but will start tomorrow
Sexton has missed all Ireland’s warm-up games so far but will start tomorrow

Ireland's final warm-up game against Wales took a back seat this week, after a media storm regarding Joe Schmidt's World Cup selection.

The question on most people's minds for this weekend's match is 'can Jonny Sexton make it through a game unscathed?'

Sexton has played no part in Ireland's warm-up games to date, but he's vital to any aspirations that Ireland have in Japan.

Sexton's combination with scrum half Conor Murray needs to hit the form of 18 months ago, as both players have struggled with injury over the last season. Schmidt will hope that Sexton gets through the game, and that he manages the game plan well.

Sexton's leadership and experience were sorely missed especially in the embarrassing loss to England.

Also, with Rory Best possibly struggling to make the starting XV based on form, then Ireland will need leaders.

A lot of talk this week has been about Devin Toner's omission from the squad.

It is an emotional opinion that had divided many. After all, here is a man that Schmidt fostered for over a decade, a player that has given immense service to the Irish jersey, cruelly replaced for the world's biggest rugby occasion by a player who has been in Ireland just three years.

However don't blame Kleyn, rather blame the system. It is not fair to make the Munster man feel unwanted before he has even had a chance to gain the hearts of the nation.

Ridiculous

I agree that the residency rule is ridiculous, in my opinion it should be seven years, but the rules are the rules.

Of course, we all feel sympathetic for the players that missed out, but at the end of the day we must now put our faith in a coach that has proved that he knows what he is doing. In my opinion, apart from a couple of contentious calls, he is correct in his selections.

Toner's case is unfortunate, especially as the line-out is one area that Ireland will potentially struggle. As proved against England. Toner has called the shots out of touch for Ireland since the retirement of Paul O'Connell, and that carries plenty of responsibility.

Toner's mere height also plays into the positive psychology of the hooker when a player like Best, who may struggle with his throws, at least knows that he has a serious banker in Toner. It also puts doubt in the opposition thrower's mind on how he can get it over the human skyscraper, the trajectory of the ball has to be almost vertical.

So if the line-outs misfire in Japan then Schmidt does not have the luxury of calling Toner off the bench. On the flip side, at 33 years of age, Toner's ability around the field has been waning.

Schmidt clearly feels that the South African's extra bulk and old-style enforcer attitude may prevent Ireland being bullied - as they were against England, despite Kleyn playing in that very match.

I'm delighted that Leinster's Rhys Ruddock makes it, as you need a player like Ruddock around the camp. He has that inspirational quality that is often needed to gel the squad together when they are living in such close confines.

The omission that may prove most costly, however, is that of versatile flanker Jordi Murphy as Dan Leavy's injury leaves Ireland very dependent on one specialist openside flanker Josh van der Flier.

Specialist

Look at the other squads, England travel to the World Cup with two natural No 7s, as they played against Ireland. Australia are the same if David Pocock and Michael Hooper team up as they might for the big games. And New Zealand may opt for the likes of Ardie Savea and Sam Cane, both specialist openside flankers playing differing roles.

Ireland have a number of versatile backrowers that can play No. 7, including Munster's Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander, even Ruddock. But their forte is not as fetchers?

Van De Flier represents the type of player who is especially quick over the first few metres, and getting to the breakdown first can speed or slow ball up.

Murphy was next in the rankings as that type of player, a player that may be needed to change the pattern.

Other countries have recognised that you will not be able to match a team like England or South Africa physically, so you need to have a game plan in humid conditions and hard grounds that is more about space and pace.

Should Van de Flier get injured then that would be an area of concern for me. In the backline Will Addison could also have made it, as he adds a creativity to Ireland's back play and is a player that fills many positions. However, like with Kleyn, Schmidt obviously feels that Chris Farrell's physicality is what will be required in Japan. Again, I am not so sure,

Addison might be harder for most teams to defend against as very little is known about him. Overall, I am delighted form is taken into account with the selections of Andrew Conway, David Kilcoyne and Jack Carty. There was very little between the Carty and Ross Byrne selection, with the latter unlucky to have started against England,

Kieran Marmion's fate was unfortunately sealed a while ago when Joey Carbery had to be covered.

This weekend Ireland must feel confident that they can win at home, and despite the poor showing against England will feel that positivity getting on the plane to Japan.

Most importantly is that Ireland's key players not only perform but are in rude good health after 80 minutes of what is, hopefully, a real test for both sides.

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