herald

Friday 17 August 2018

Key call going to the wire

Kidney's failure to confirm Sexton or O'Gara as his first choice No.10 is bewildering

Ireland will this week be plunged back into the trauma of a decision that has dogged them for the last two years.

Just who is their No1 outside half?

Jonathan Sexton's stuttering performance in the opening Rugby World Cup match against the USA in New Plymouth yesterday has again surely opened the door to Ronan O'Gara.

Sexton not only missed four of his six kicks at goal, 12 vital points squandered as Ireland sought to put clear distance between themselves and the plucky Americans.

But there were other aspects of the Leinster man's game which were worrying.

One aimless kick into the air without great distance soon after half time told of Sexton's increasing desperation. By then, he had missed two penalties in the first 10 minutes of the game and he missed two more in the opening four minutes of the second half.

In the end, coach Declan Kidney revealed his concern, dragging off the Leinster pivot with a full half hour still to play. The conditions, wet and difficult, were tailor-made for Ronan O'Gara. Even so, he missed the conversion attempt from Rory Best's try although he soon made amends by adding the points after Tommy Bowe's second touchdown.

But now, with Australia waiting for Ireland in Auckland ahead of Saturday's Pool C showdown match at Eden Park, it is decision time for Kidney. Does he stand by Sexton, believing he is likelier to ignite the Irish backs, even though there was scant evidence of that yesterday?

Or does he opt for O'Gara who looks the more reliable kicker on present form?

For me, and I can't quite believe I'm saying this, Ireland should choose O'Gara.

Through selectorial prevarication, Ireland have got themselves into a shocking mess over the key No10 jersey and who wears it.

They ought to have made a definitive decision long ago but kept chopping and changing their minds. It is obvious that Sexton's confidence has been shredded by this uncertainty and his form has suffered as a result.

If you're an Irish fan, you can wring your hands in dismay at this situation and rant and rave about why it should never have been allowed to happen. But the reality is, it was, it is here and now it requires a decision.

I'd go with O'Gara because his game management looks far sharper than Sexton's at the moment. He seems likelier to land the crucial penalties, something Ireland will surely need against the Wallabies.

On the evidence of their poor display against the USA, Kidney's men will require a vastly improved performance this Saturday to have any hope of holding the Australians.



Recovery

Wallabies captain James Horwill said after his side's 32-6 win over Italy at Auckland's North Harbour stadium yesterday: "It is only a six-day turnaround before the match against Ireland. That is shorter than usual.

"So we need to make sure we get our post-match recovery right.

"Ireland are a good side and we will have to get our preparation spot on."

But if the Wallabies are worried about having only six days to prepare, Ireland are clearly at a disadvantage because they will only have five, one of which includes Saturday, the match day.

Why? Because they were spending much of today travelling up to Auckland from New Plymouth, getting into the city and checking into their hotel.

It's a far from ideal scenario, especially with their opponents already there for the whole of last week and nicely settled. As Brian O'Driscoll complained about Ireland's performance, saying "We didn't play well, we have a hell of a lot to improve on", the Australians were singing a very different tune.

Coach Robbie Deans greeted the four second-half tries that crushed Italy with the comment: "That was pleasing. But we did a lot of good things in the first half too.

"Maybe it didn't show on the scoreboard (it was 6-6 at the interval) but it set us up for the second half."

This afternoon in Auckland, there was a clear sense that Ireland are well behind on the ledger in the countdown to Saturday's crucial clash.

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