herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Ireland benefit from farce

Sexton's recovery and key Italian injury makes Paris fiasco work out in long term

THE France versus Ireland postponement couldn't have worked out better for Declan Kidney, despite the political correctness bounding out of the Irish camp last week.

The Irish management's cleverly communicated sense of outrage at the Six Nations Council (SNC) and the French Rugby Federation connected with Irish supporters.

But, it was out of tune with the reality of not just international, but French club rugby.



THE FRENCH TOP-14 CHAMPIONSHIP

The weekend of March 2nd, 3rd, 4th was the only logical choice for the rivalry to be renewed. The SNC could not risk the catastrophic possibility of another Friday Night Lights cancellation.

The French Top-14 Championship sees five matches down for decision on Saturday, March 3rd, including the top-of-the-table clash between leaders Toulouse and Clermont-Auvergne in the South of France.

By an obvious process of elimination, the only choice was to re-fix the Six Nations match for Sunday afternoon.

It is far safer and plain common sense for the French Federation to risk the wrath of the IRFU than the volatile nature of their supporters and their sponsors and television backers.

In any case, the postponement could and should work in Ireland's favour. For instance, Toulouse hooker William Servat started against Agen on Saturday. Jean-Baptiste Poux, Vincent Clerc and Yoann Maestri all came off the bench.

Lock Pascal Pape and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski played for Stade Francais. Fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc lined out for Montpellier. Clermont's Morgan Parra, Biarritz's Imanol Harinordoquy and Perpignan's Nicolas Mas all put in shifts.

More pertinently, for the moment, Italy's Sergio Parisse turned out for his club Stade Francais and played the full 80 minutes in their 19-all draw with Toulon at Stade de France on Saturday.

Let there be no more talk about Ireland playing four internationals in a row in the month ahead. Cian Healy summed it up last week: "That's the way I like it," he said.



JONATHAN SEXTON

Leinster fly-half Jonathan Sexton will have had two weeks of rest, rehabilitation and recuperation from the slight thigh strain that put into question his participation against France nine nights ago.

The idea that Sexton should be moved into the centre to facilitate Ronan O'Gara is a flight of fancy from ex-players who have played the game, but don't necessarily know the game.

If Ireland's Jamie Heaslip can claim, which he has done, with total justification not to know or care how the ball ends up at his feet from a scrum -- only that it does -- it is possible that former Irish forwards do not comprehend the adjustment required to ask Sexton to move from 10-to-12 without any game time there.

There is a fair argument for the selection of O'Gara, who was immaculate again against Benetton Treviso in the PRO12 League on Saturday ahead of Sexton.

He is the more measured tactician. He has an edge in control over Sexton and can frustrate and fracture Italy by touching on their pressure points, turning them, squeezing them for space and punishing Italian indiscipline. However, Sexton has the physical tools and running game to hold out against any attack and trouble any defence.

He is the best fly-half in Europe, bar none. All he needs is his coach to say unequivocally, in private, 'you are my man'.



MARTIN CASTROGIOVANNI

The Italian scrum literally disintegrated against England when their tight-head prop Martin Castrogiovanni was forced from the Stadio Olimpico clutching his side in obvious pain.

The outcome was the diagnosis of a broken rib and a probable six-week lay-off in order to return to match fitness. He is out of the Six Nations.

While Ireland loose-head Healy is not the type to stand-off a physical challenge, there is no doubt the absence of the truculent Castrogiovanni will leave a diminished test at the scrum.

Second choice tight-head Lorenzo Cittadini showed against the unheralded London Irish loose-head Alex Corbisiero that he is not an intimidating operator. If selected, this should depower the Italian's strongest weapon and leave Healy with increased energy to cause havoc around the Aviva Stadium next Saturday.

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