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Tough call for Sexton

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10 February 2013; Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, before he was helped off the field injured. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

10 February 2013; Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, before he was helped off the field injured. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

10 February 2013; Jonathan Sexton, Ireland, before he was helped off the field injured. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

LEINSTER out-half Jonathan Sexton would do well to take a step back from his bid to play for Ireland against France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

It would be a gamble-upon-gamble that Kidney would leave out his most experienced out-half in Ronan O'Gara while knowing Sexton is unlikely to make the deadline.

The Leinster playmaker was reported to be back running last week and must be considered for selection given O'Gara's exit from the 32-man squad.

However, it is believed that Sexton has not kicked a ball in earnest since his grade-two hamstring tear against England. He simply cannot be guaranteed to play against France.

It would be a risk too high for Sexton to take. The simple mathematics of the situation means Ireland are out of the running to become the Six Nations champions.

The British & Irish Lions frontrunner cannot afford to compound his initial injury with another, given the hot form of England's Owen Farrell ahead of the three-Test tour to Australia.

There was a time when Sexton was too immature to know when to make the smart call. He just wanted to play every game. He still does. But, common sense might dictate that he consider his near future for the rest of the season, not for Saturday.

Anyway, the immediate news is that Ireland icon O'Gara could have played his last game for Ireland.

That is the headline message from coach Declan Kidney's decision to omit the 128-cap out-half from his extended 32-man squad to prepare all week for France at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

It is true time waits for no man, not even for those who have done enough to walk away rather than be pushed out the door. O'Gara turns 36 years old on Thursday – so much for a happy birthday.

The slow, certain demise of O'Gara this season was confirmed on Saturday night when he was nothing more than a link man to Munster's incessant lateral movement.

 

Illustrious

He simply couldn't take control when it mattered most, his last-ditch drop goal attempt a pale imitation of the many he has saved his province with over the length of an illustrious career.

The 13-all draw against the Ospreys was almost as damaging as a defeat to a man who was soon to lose more than two points.

In contrast, the simple fact of O'Gara's omission must strengthen the case for what would be a remarkable rehabilitation of Sexton from three weeks back.

Interestingly, Kidney has also called in Leinster's Ian Madigan. He must have impressed Ireland's kicking coach Mark Tainton, who attended the PRO12 League defeat of the Dragons on Friday night.

Crucially, Leinster coach Joe Schmidt highlighted the goal-kicking of Madigan: "Off the ground, he was superb. That certainly helped to build the scoreboard pressure."

Madigan's running and passing games are already intact. The goal-kicking is coming on quickly.

It is the area of tactical kicking and overall control that needs refinement.

Apparently, he is making those improvements quickly enough and convincingly enough to co-opt the support of Tainton, a former prolific fly-half for Bristol back in the day.

There is every probability that Kidney will have to turn to a one-cap out-half in Paddy Jackson to start and an uncapped one in Madigan to sit on the bench.

Leinster-bound lock Mike McCarthy is also in the pot after a knee ligament injury, while Donnacha Ryan's shoulder problem continues to be a cause for concern.

This is the reason for Kidney bringing in five second rows, also including Leinster's Devin Toner, Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan and Ulster's Dan Tuohy, who is not long back from an ongoing calf injury.

 

Battle

The return of loose-head Cian Healy from suspension means that Dave Kilcoyne has won his personal battle with Tom Court to provide back-up in the position.

In another reflection of weekend form, Ulster's Irish-qualified South African Robbie Diack moves into the squad just as Munster's James Coughlan drops out of it.

Connacht full-back Robbie Henshaw and Ulster centre Darren Cave were not considered due to picking up concussions while playing for their provinces.

Ulster's Andrew Trimble comes back into the equation and Leinster duo Eoin O'Malley, for Cave, and Dave Kearney, for Henshaw, are also on board.


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