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Friday 20 September 2019

Sexton survives unscathed despite putting himself in the line of fire

WORRY: Jonathan Sexton is attended to by team doctor Ciaran Cosgrave. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
WORRY: Jonathan Sexton is attended to by team doctor Ciaran Cosgrave. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The analysis about how Jonathan Sexton fared came a distant second to the out-half simply getting through his work unscathed.

The heavy strapping on his left hand, to safeguard that previously compromised thumb, was a reminder of how everything can be taken away in this cruel game.

The good, the bad, the ordinary moments almost evaporated into thin-air when Sexton was driven to the ground by the large, menacing frame of second row Jake Ball in the 39th minute.

The World Player of the Year lay motionless on his right side, the medics prepared to blast through rucks to get to their man - our main man.

The game went on as an after-thought as eyes were drawn to the victim, the wait drawn out like a dark winter night.

And then, he was back to his feet, re-joining the line, drawing the applause of a grateful crowd for nothing more than just being upright and moving freely from being winded.

"Again, I felt that Johnny got a bit of treatment. There was one I felt was a little bit late, early on, that he got winded," noted coach Joe Schmidt.

"But Johnny is not going to step back. He's going to keep putting himself up there."

Sexton stands in the line of fire come hell or high-water.

That was apparent from his first two involvements in joining Josh van der Flier to put down Hadleigh Parkes and CJ Stander to stop Elliot Dee dead in his tracks.

The first touch could have been better, much better, clipping a drop out on the full.

Pressure

He was back in the same place from the 22 again to relieve pressure when Rob Kearney had rescued Ireland from the hard-chasing George North's sniff of a try after Leigh Halfpenny's kick through.

Ever the facilitator, Sexton began to quietly wield an influence, making passes to Bundee Aki and Rob Kearney, sending Robbie Henshaw up the middle.

A tackle on Jonathan Davies could have been whistled for Sexton's right arm around the head.

Ross Moriarty also could have drawn a penalty from Mathieu Raynal for another questionable embrace - CJ Stander was actually penalised for nor releasing in the tackle.

A simple ball to Jack Conan and another for Aki turned into a clean break.

A routine connection to Rob Kearney exploited Jonathan Davies' poor positioning for a try assist which Sexton converted from the left in the 23rd minute.

There is nothing to please the coach more than winning back possession, an unexpected grass-cutter putting Halfpenny in all sorts of bother with Aki closing in and van der Flier mopping up the loose ball in the 26th minute.

Two minutes later, another grubber was angled to the 22 just before Sexton's mistake almost cost Ireland seven points, Dan Biggar intercepting to require Henshaw to make up 10 metres in a never-say-die rescue mission.

After that, there were half-a-dozen passes to Henshaw (2), Jean Kleyn, Kearney and Cian Healy (2) just before Ball arrived in the 39th minute.

Snared

Happily, the ball was moved on to Jordan Larmour, who mishandled, Healy and Rory Best.

Then, Sexton was snared on a wrap-around move by the waiting Jonathan Davies - they don't call him 'Fox' for nothing - for a turnover that concluded the first half.

Sexton restarted the game with a deep ball into the 22, passed to Aki and failed to spin out of Ross Moriarty's tackle.

A trademark cross-field kick found the arms of Jordan Larmour, but a Garryowen travelled too far to apply pressure to Leigh Halfpenny.

A much better launch allowed Larmour to tip the ball away from Halfpenny in the air and the wing earned a penalty with his poach at the subsequent ruck.

Sexton arrowed the kick towards the corner in a busy opening to the second period.

There was a smart clear-out of Halfpenny in the lead-up to Tadhg Furlong's try in the 52nd minute and a second conversion from the left.

A relieving kick to touch from inside the 22 was followed by an assist tackle on Elliot Dee and a fine kick into Wales 22 from a scrum penalty.

The passes flowed to Aki and Henshaw, on a nice inside ball, and Aki again, on a short ball, in advance of pulling the conversion to James Ryan's try left and wide.

The final contribution was to seize on an Alun Wyn Jones spill, slipping the ball to Ryan to set in motion another attack.

When Sexton's number was called after 63 minutes, he made way for Jack Carty, moving freely. Overall, it was a solid return to action for the first time this season, showing the good, the bad and the ordinary.

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