Rugby | 1 week ago
What kind of message does Johnny Sexton's inevitable inclusion for France send?
There is a big decision to be made

It's been a while since we have had a situation like this.

It has been many years since there has been genuine competition for the Ireland no.10 jersey.

The tussle between Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton during the formative years of this decade captured the imagination of the Irish rugby public.

It led to constant debate,  endless column inches and an underlying, immersing narrative to various Test matches which Ireland played over those years.

Ireland have been blessed to have two truly world-class out halves at their disposal over the last 15 years and Sexton's constant inclusion (when fit) has been completely justified since O'Gara's retirement.

However, Ireland are approaching a fork in the road and it is not too dissimilar to the one which faced Declan Kidney and his management team towards the end of their tenure.

Although the circumstances are different, the similarity surrounds the choice of who should play at out-half. It's that simple.

Unfortunately, Sexton has not played as much rugby for Ireland and province as he, management or fans would have liked over the past 12 months.

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The 31-year-old has also had prolonged periods of absence at various stages of his career, most of which have occurred in the past number of years.

His injury record is a serious concern, as much as the Irish and Leinster management attempt to downplay its significance.

He sat out the summer tour of South Africa and has played little over 100 minutes of rugby since November.

So when does this become a factor in determining who should have the opportunity to guide Ireland to victory against France next weekend?

To be fair to Sexton, he has this incredible, innate ability to hit the ground running when it comes to coming back after injury layoffs, an excellent characteristic, but one which we wish we weren't too familiar with.

Jackson has probably done everything you would expect of someone to justify their inclusion in a starting Test side.

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There is no longer a concern about the 25-year-old's ability to perform at the required standard against the top quality nations. He is now firmly established Test standard out half.

Joe Schmidt has stated recently that Sexton will be available for France and to be fair, he has also said that Jackson is now making the decision much tougher.

However, history tells us that once Sexton is deemed fit, he plays.

For example, the Irish management were willing to give Sexton just one full training session after a prolonged absence in the build up to the Scotland game but pulled up with a hamstring injury when conducting a running session the day before.

Don't get me wrong, Sexton is world-class, but to put in a player who has played such little rugby, against a huge, bruising French side when you have a completely capable player who can get the job done sends the wrong message.

All will be revealed next week but expect Sexton to play if he is deemed fit by the Irish management.

The Hard Yards with Donncha O'Callaghan, Mike Ross, Pat McCarry and host Andy McGeady. Ireland v France previewed as Grenoble's Chris Farrell gives his insight on the French and talks about his decision to join Munster. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes.

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Ireland, Joe Schmidt, Johnny Sexton, Paddy Jackson