Tuesday 12 December 2017

Sexton focused on his own game

IT is an often-quoted positive that Ireland have two world-class out-halves to select from. Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O'Gara play to the tune of their provinces.

The former is a running, kicking playmaker; the latter an ice-cool game manager and points taker.

With great competition comes great duress for the management. When the game plan is not going to plan, there is a readymade, trustworthy alternative a stone's throw away.

It has been a negative for Leinster's Sexton that he has found himself turning towards the touchline when he has made one or two mistakes in the past.

"With Ireland there is a little more looking over your shoulder because Ronan is on the bench. At times, it is difficult. Making a couple of mistakes, you're looking at the line after 50 minutes," he admitted.


"It is something I have to get used to. It is probably something I struggled with. But, you learn a lot with setbacks. Hopefully, I will not be as bogged down by it, try and play my own game and do what is best for the team."

Just as O'Gara stood face-to-face with Eddie O'Sullivan on his rotation policy at fly-half, Sexton needs to feel that Kidney is convinced by what he can bring from Leinster to Ireland, from club to country.

"Declan is entitled to mix and match both of us. He is the man in charge. If he wants to bring Ronan on for the last 10, 20 or half-an-hour, then he can. I just have to make the most of my time on the pitch.

"You learn as you go on. I can't control how long I am on the pitch. I just try to control my own performance," he said.

This is a rivalry that will never truly end until O'Gara, 34, announces his retirement or until Kidney finally nails his colours to the green mast.

The reality of international rugby is that Sexton will have to temper the freedom he enjoys at Leinster with the more pragmatic approach of Declan Kidney's Ireland.

It is right there in his review of the World Cup: "It is about learning how to slow the game down, put the ball in the corner, put the forwards on the front-foot. At times, we probably got carried away with playing the ball in hand."

The fallout from Wellington has been painful for the players, none more so than Sexton, who was axed in favour of O'Gara.

"Everything was going great for us in the World Cup. We didn't turn up for one day. And it's over.

"It came down to one 80 minutes and we were going home.

"We didn't execute things the way we had planned to. There has been a lot of talk about our game plan.

"It didn't look like we knew what we were doing. That is the players' responsibility.

"Maybe we played our final against Australia. Maybe we were looking ahead. I don't know. It is different for every player. We just didn't play well enough on the day."

The time for payback has come around for Ireland. There is no miracle cure. There is no revolutionary road travelled.

"It is not much of a different game plan. It is just improving the existing one. There is a lot of individual responsibility from the players to put right what went wrong in that game in this championship," he said.

"The game plan brought us a lot of scoring opportunities. We just didn't take them. The coaches can only do so much. It is up to us to finish them."

The chances and the Welsh.

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