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Thursday 5 December 2019

Schmidt could be going all-in on Sexton's captaincy

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt
Peter O’Mahony

The Ireland chain of command has always been Rory Best, Peter O'Mahony and Jonathan Sexton, in that particular order.

Now, coach Joe Schmidt has opted to hand the responsibility over to Sexton, his most trusted soldier, his best player.

This is more a job for the politician than the militant.

Presumably, that is why Sexton was only crowned captain at Leinster in August of 2018 at the age of 33. Even then, at times last season, Sexton admitted to having teething problems in the finer points of the role.

The combustible character is as passionate about the injustices that take place on the field of play as he is about the pursuit of the points that lead to victory.

That has led to multiple occasions when Sexton has remonstrated with referees and, arguably, his team has suffered for bypassing the chain of command.

At 34, the out-half will become Ireland's captain on the occasion of his 86th cap.

In contrast, O'Mahony first led Ireland out on the 2013 summer tour to North America.

One month later, the loose forward was awarded the Munster captaincy for the season. He was 23 years young.

There was the trust placed in O'Mahony by Warren Gatland to lead the British & Irish Lions against New Zealand for the first test in 2017.

When Best was unable to travel to Australia in 2018, O'Mahony took on the mantle of the captaincy in the historic 2-1 series win, Ireland's first there since 1979.

When the decisive third test between Ireland and the Wallabies was on a knife edge, captain O'Mahony was receiving treatment on the ground.

That moved the armband, the right of reply, and the right to engage with referee Pascal Gauzere, to Sexton.

A short discussion was underlined by Sexton's undiplomatic approach.

"I'm the captain, so you have to talk to me. I know you hate me, but you have to talk to me," he told the Frenchman.

Referees dislike players telling them what they have to do just about as much as Sexton hates being told what to do.

Maybe Schmidt sees Sexton as another all-in option, where the last lap of his Ireland tenure enables the coach to think only of tomorrow and not of the 2020 Six Nations.

Could it be that O'Mahony's place is far from certain for the quarter-final?

That other natural leader Rhys Ruddock will pack down at blindside against Russia, with O'Mahony on the openside.

The greater power the Leinster man has might just tempt Schmidt into a rethink.

Could it even be that Best's ownership of the number two shirt is up for grabs?

The hooker's too-low throw to Iain Henderson when Ireland were threatening from an attacking lineout was one of those turning moments in the Ecopa Stadium.

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