Ireland captaincy to be addressed as World Rugby content with length of Johnny Sexton ban
It was looking like another chapter would open on this saga.
Just as all of Ireland was decompressing after a few tense days when the World Cup future of Ireland captain Johnny Sexton was in doubt, a suggestion from a prominent rugby writer plunged some back into despair.
Among the most active, on social media, decrying the leniency of Sexton's three-game ban have been former England captain Will Carling, Sunday Times' veteran rugby correspondent Stephen Jones and Wales legend Jonathan Davies, who accused the independent disciplinary panel of "bottling it".
The Sexton discourse has been heavy since the committee sat, last Thursday, beyond the Sunday evening arrival of their decision. The Leinster and Ireland captain had been found to have overstepped the mark when berating the Champions Cup final match officials, as well as EPCR Head of Referees Tony Spreadbury, following the game. Sexton has since apologised for his actions and will now miss all of Ireland's World Cup warm-up matches.
When an Irish rugby supporter questioned Davies' on the Sexton ban length, the former Wales star replied, 'Mate, it’s an opinion. So you think a player, who was not even playing can abuse officials? Sends out a good message? I always look at it as a player and it will be great to see Johnny Sexton play in the RWC. But I think it’s lenient.'
Off the back of that, Jones claimed World Rugby was still looking into the Sexton judgement so the matter is 'not over yet'.
SportsJOE understands, however, that World Rugby are content with the EPCR and disciplinary committee decision. There will be no extra investigation and that three-match ban will be confirmed if Sexton opts not to appeal. It is not expected that the 38-year-old will appeal.
With that drama [mostly] behind us, it now falls to Andy Farrell to mull who captains Ireland for their three warm-up games. Sexton should stay on as captain for the World Cup but confirmation of that will need to come when he is next up in front of the media.
Ireland captain question to be considered
The length of the Johnny Sexton ban, and the way the World Cup fixtures lie, leave a dilemma for Andy Farrell and his coaches.
Ideally, Sexton would have started one warm-up game and came off the bench in another. Now that he misses all the warm-ups, Farrell needs to select a new Ireland captain (or captains) and now mull how to get Sexton up to speed in France.
Starting the outhalf against Romania and Tonga would then make it tough to start him against South Africa and Scotland. As Warren Gatland noted when he left Sexton out of his 2021 Lions squad, the veteran 10 does not often start three or four back-to-back matches.
Before we get there, let us look at the more immediate fixtures. Italy and England are coming to Dublin on August 5th and 19th, with a match against Samoa a week later.
Peter O'Mahony would be the early favourite, but James Ryan and Tadhg Furlong are also captaincy candidates. Iain Henderson also captained Ireland in 2021.
We can see the honour being shared between O'Mahony and Ryan over the three games, but we could yet see Keith Earls get the nod, for example, if it coincided with his 100th Test cap and Farrell was resting some frontliners for the Samoa match.
There will be bigger headaches ahead, no doubt, but preparations would have been a whole lot easier if Sexton had kept himself in check on May 20.
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