Tag Archives: Jonathan Sexton

Kidney Names Team for Italy Match


Sexton is fit to take his place at outhalf. (c) Nigel Snell.

Declan Kidney has unveiled his Irish team to take on Italy in Saturday’s Six Nations game at the Aviva (kick-off 1.30). The Irish coach has made no changes to the side he had originally selected to take on France. Johnny Sexton has fully recovered from the thigh injury which made him a doubt for the ill-fated Stade de France clash two weekends ago.

Italy have been poor in their first two games against France and England. They don’t look to pose any more threat than usual. This is an Irish team filled with quality players and they should be confident of a convincing win at home.

What’s your take on the Irish team? Would you have liked to see a few changes? If so, where and who? How do you think we will fare against the Italians? Comment below with your views and opinions on the Italy match this weekend.

Ireland team to face Italy

1. Cian Healy (Leinster)

2. Rory Best (Ulster)

3. Mike Ross (Leinster)

4. Donnacha O’Callaghan (Munster)

5. Paul O’Connell (Munster, capt.)

6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster)

7. Sean O’Brien (Leinster)

8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

9. Conor Murray (Munster)

10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)

11. Andrew Trimble (Ulster)

12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster)

13. Keith Earls (Munster)

14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)


16. Sean Cronin (Leinster), 17. Tom Court (Ulster), 18. Donnacha Ryan (Munster), 19. Peter O’Mahony (Munster), 20. Eoin Reddan (Leinster),21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster), 22. Fergus McFadden (Leinster).


Photo courtesy:  Nigel Snell.

Kidney Makes One Change For France

Ireland Earls

Keith Earls returns at outside centre. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Ireland have named their team to take on France on Saturday evening in Stade de France. Coach Declan Kidney has made only one change to the starting fifteen which lost 23-21 to Wales last Sunday.

As expected, the returning Keith Earls takes his pace at outside centre, with Fergus McFadden dropping to the bench. Dave Kearney is the one to drop out of the match day 22 to accomodate Earls’ inclusion. Once again, Donnacha Ryan will be disappointed to start on the bench after his impressive cameo against Wales.

Kidney has once again stayed loyal to this group of players and he will expect to be rewarded with an aggressive performance. Ireland need to step up their levels of desire and urgency greatly from last weekend, especially with Kidney retaining his trust in that team.

What do you make of the team below? Comment at the bottom of this piece with the changes you would have made…

Ireland team to face Wales

1. Cian Healy (Leinster)

2. Rory Best (Ulster)

3. Mike Ross (Leinster)

4. Donnacha O’Callaghan (Munster)

5. Paul O’Connell (Munster)

6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster)

7. Sean O’Brien (Leinster)

8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

9. Conor Murray (Munster)

10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)

11. Andrew Trimble (Ulster)

12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster)

13. Keith Earls (Munster)

14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)


16. Sean Cronin (Leinster), 17. Tom Court (Ulster), 18. Donnacha Ryan (Munster), 19. Peter O’Mahony (Munster), 20. Eoin Reddan (Leinster), 21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster), 22. Fergus McFadden (Leinster).



Yachvili has been ruled out with a back injury. (c) Liam Coughlan.

France have had to make a late change to their starting fifteen, after Dimitri Yachvili pulled out with a back injury. Morgan Parra is his more than capable replacement, with Julien Dupuy promoted to the bench.


Photo courtesy:  Liam Coughlan.

Key Areas for Ireland on Sunday

O'Gara struggled to break down the Welsh defence at the World Cup. (c) Joslyn Layne.

With the Irish team named, it’s time to move on to discussing the actual match on Sunday. Wales have yet to name their team with Rhys Priestland, Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts all doubts at the moment. It would be no surprise to see all three start on Sunday, but Wales will definitely be without World Cup second-rows  Alun Wyn-Jones and Luke Charteris. Also missing are tighthead prop Gethin Jenkins and hooker Matthew Rees. Those four are big losses to this Welsh side. Brian O’Driscoll is the only guaranteed first-choice player missing for Ireland.

Jamie Heaslip said yesterday that this game is a stand-alone fixture and has nothing to do with the World Cup quarter-final. He stressed the importance of moving on from that disappointment and that is certainly the right attitude. However, there are aspects of that game that can serve as a lesson to Ireland and influence how they approach this game. While the game on Sunday could, and probably will be a completely different type of game, it’s still worthwhile looking at where Ireland can improve on from the last meeting of the sides.

Selection-wise, the only changes from the starting team for that quarter-final are the inclusion of Andrew Trimble on the left wing in place of O’Driscoll, and Jonathan Sexton ahead of Ronan O’Gara at outhalf. Keith Earls moves into 13 to accomodate Trimble.

It is the choice of Sexton that looks like it could be crucial though. The Leinster outhalf has an undoubtedly more rounded attacking game than O’Gara. This is no slight on ROG, who is having a superb season and offers totally different strengths. Still, Sexton is far more of a threat in attack, well able to make breaks himself and his passing continues to improve. O’Gara’s distribution is spectacular at times, but he offers no threat himself. At the World Cup, O’Gara didn’t beat a single defender, while Sexton beat 6.

So why does this even matter? It matters because Ireland should have got a lot more from that quarter-final against Wales. Ireland had more possession (58%) and dominated in terms of territory (62%), yet they could only manage 10 points over the course of the game. While Wales’ heroic defensive effort played a massive part in this, it’s still a poor return. Ireland have to get more return from their possession and good field position on Sunday.

Jonathan Sexton's Try (Ireland v France)

Sexton, pictured scoring against France in the World Cup warm-up match, offers greater attacking threat. (c) Ross Wynne.

That’s why the inclusion of Sexton makes sense. If he can bring his Leinster form to this game, Ireland’s backline should be able to threaten the Welsh more often.  In that World Cup match, Ireland only managed one clean line-break. Once again, the supreme Welsh defensive organisation must be applauded for that. But it is easier for a midfield to defend when they know that the opposition outhalf poses little or no threat himself.

As was well-documented at the time, Wales targeted Sean O’Brien to great effect in the quarter-final. Despite making a whopping 22 carries, O’Brien only managed a total return of 24 metres, without beating a single defender. It’s essential that the Irish pack share that workload this time around. Promisingly, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell and Cian Healy have been extremely effective on the ball for their provinces in recent months and they must look to take the focus away from O’Brien.

No. 8 Jamie Heaslip is another who needs a big game in terms of ball carrying. He had a strangely quiet night in the quarter-final and will surely be intent on imposing himself this time. O’Brien is at his best when he is given a chance to run at defenders one-on-one. He needs to do less of the close-in carrying from slow ball and be used with a little more space and time.

One of the most frustrating things for Ireland in that World Cup loss was the manner in which the tries were conceded, particularly Jonathan Davies’ one. The centre went through feeble tackle attempts from Cian Healy and Keith Earls. While Ireland’s defence is generally excellent, moving Earls to 13 puts a lot of responsibility on him. Wales will almost certainly target the Munster man’s defence and he will have to be at his most alert. With Gordon D’Arcy’s defence slowly weakening in recent times too, the Welsh will expect to get some change from the Irish midfield.

Another key area in Sunday’s game will be the breakdown. This is an obvious thing to say, as the breakdown has great importance in any rugby match. But the World Cup showed how vital the area has become in international rugby. The best teams at the tournament fielded breakdown specialists – the All Black’s Richie McCaw, France’s Thierry Dusautoir, Australia’s David Pocock, South Africa’s Heinrich Brussow and Wales’ Sam Warburton.

Ireland and Wales have had some great battles in recent years, not least at the Millenium stadium last year when Wales won in controversial circumstances. (c) Brendan Rankin.

This kind of player has arguably become as important to international sides as a star outhalf. Winning the breakdown battle is essential in international rugby. Post-tournament stats showed that at RWC 2011 the average number of breakdowns per game was 162, well up on 2007’s figure of 144. But the most relevant figure was that the highest number of breakdowns in any match was 225 in, you guessed it, the Ireland vs. Wales quarter-final.

Declan Kidney hasn’t found his breakdown specialist, but a collective focus on winning this aspect of the game has surely been stressed. Alternatively, Ireland could look to limit the importance of the breakdown on Sunday. The choice of Sexton at outhalf and more selective use of the big ball carriers relates back to this. With Sexton at 10, Ireland will hope to keep the ball alive more. Sexton’s threat will mean more one-on-one situations, and in turn, rucks that are easier to win. If O’Brien and Ferris are also used in better circumstances they can create better front foot ball, and limit the amount of opportunities for Wales to win turnovers.

That’s why this game has the potential to be completely different to the World Cup quarter-final. Ireland will surely recognise that they need to change the manner in which they attack the Welsh. Declan Kidney failed to alter the Irish game-plan for that loss, simply playing the same way they had in every match up to that point. The Welsh side altered their tactics to target the Irish side and now that is what Ireland have to do. It should be a fascinating battle.

Wales have yet to name their side for Sunday, but just a brief look at how their injuries might affect them. Losing their second-row will have obvious effects on the lineout. Alun-Wyn Jones is also one of Wales’ more prolific ball-carries. In the quarter-final, he was Wales’ top carrier with 12. The potential loss of Dan Lydiate would have an impact on the relentless Welsh defence. He made an incredible 24 tackles in the quarter-final, without missing one.

Jamie Roberts’ fitness will be important if Wales do look to target the Irish midfield. He is hard to slow down when he’s at his best. D’Arcy and Earls would much rather the prospect of Ashley Beck/Gavin Henson/Scott Williams at 12. Gethin Jenkins’ injury will be a relief for the Irish front-row and they will look to dominate at scrum-time. Finally, if Rhys Priestland were to miss out, it would greatly alter the Welsh game-plan. James Hook is a totally different outhalf, while Stephen Jones looks as though age is catching up with him.

There are plenty of reasons for Irish fans to be optimistic.


Photos courtesy:  Joslyn Layne, Ross Wynne, Brendan Rankin.

Ireland Name Squad to Face Wales

Ireland will hope for a better result than last time against the Welsh, 22-10 at the World Cup. (c) Joslyn Layne.

Declan Kidney has named his team to take on Wales in Ireland’s Six Nations opener on Sunday. Here’s the team:

Ireland team for Wales match

1. Cian Healy

2. Rory Best

3. Mike Ross

4. Donncha O’Callaghan

5. Paul O’Connell

6. Stephen Ferris

7. Sean O’Brien

8. Jamie Heaslip

9. Conor Murray

10. Jonathan Sexton

11. Andrew Trimble

12. Gordon D’Arcy

13. Keith Earls

14. Tommy Bowe

15. Rob Kearney


16. Sean Cronin, 17. Tom Court, 18. Donnacha Ryan, 19. Peter O’Mahony, 20. Eoin Reddan, 21. Ronan O’Gara, 22. Fergus McFadden.

Ireland will be intent on avoiding this situation on Sunday. (c) Joslyn Layne.

So no shocks in the starting 15. Peter O’Mahony’s inclusion on the bench is the only selection that was not widely anticipated. However, his form and impact for Munster this season make it well deserved. As expected, Keith Earls takes the 13 jersey after an accomplished performance there for Munster in that big win over Northampton.

Donncha O’Callaghan’s inclusion from the start may draw the most criticism, but Kidney has always been loyal to the players who have served him well in the past. Donnacha Ryan will have to be content with making an impact off the bench. ROG won’t be happy acting as a replacement but there’s every chance he will have some part to play.

In the end, this is what everyone expected from Kidney. But that’s no criticism from The Touchline. Kidney has picked what he sees as the strongest available team to beat Wales at the Aviva on Sunday. He has no interest in testing youngsters in that environment. Take a second look at the team above. It is filled with quality. If it lacks excitement on paper, just remember the form players like Rob Kearney and Stephen Ferris are in. This is a team with the potential to win the Six Nations and that is Kidney’s only concern.

Wales name their team on Friday. Alun Wyn-Jones, Luke Charteris, Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees are all out injured. Rhys Priestland, Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts are hoping to be fit in time for Sunday’s game.


Photos courtesy:  Joslyn Layne.

The Touchline’s Ireland Selection

Andrew Trimble, pictured carrying the ball, is one of Ireland's most in-form players. (c) Ross Wynne.

At lunchtime tomorrow, Ireland will announce their match day 22 for the Six Nations opener with Wales on Sunday. Everyone has their own opinions on who should be in that match day squad, and plenty of different reasons why. So here’s your chance to pick the team…

Below is The Touchline’s choice of 22 for Sunday. You’ll see why we have chosen each player and why they were preferred to the other available options. After you’ve read through this selection, post your team/squad in the comments sections at the bottom of the page.

This is not the exact team that we think Declan Kidney will pick, but rather the team that we would pick if we were in charge of the Ireland team. Some players will be unanimously picked in everyone’s teams, but it will be interesting to see what players you think Kidney should take a chance on…

The Touchline’s Starting 15 for Wales Game

1. Cian Healy – As we saw in a Man of the Match performance against Australia at the World Cup, Healy is world-class at his best. While he hasn’t really hit those heights for Leinster since returning from New Zealand, his display against Montpellier two weeks ago showed he is hitting form at the right time. Also, the fact that Brett Wilkinson and Tom Court are his only opposition for the loosehead spot means he is a certainty to start. His battle with Adam Jones will be key.

2. Sean Cronin – Rory Best had a stellar World Cup and probably deserves to retain the jersey because of that. But for this particular match, Cronin would be my choice. Battling with Richardt Strauss for the Leinster No.2 jersey has brought rapid progress from Cronin. His lineout throwing has improved to an international level. However, it’s his pace and mobility that I would pick him for. The Welsh aren’t afraid to open games up, and that is where Cronin is at his best. With Welsh tackles likely to be focused on O’Brien and Ferris, the Leinster hooker could cause havoc.

3. Mike Ross – The lack of competition at tighthead means that Ross has become an irreplaceable cog in this Irish team. Declan Kidney’s loss of faith in Jamie Hagan means that Tom Court is the only other viable option in this position. Court would be a clear downgrade on Ross, so keeping him fit is essential. His importance lies at the set-piece, ensuring Ireland win their own ball and trying to disrupt on the Wales put-in as much as possible.

4. Dan Tuohy – There’s no lack of competition here, with Donnacha Ryan and Donncha O’Callaghan hopeful of selection, and realistically ahead of Ulster’s Tuohy. There will be plenty of calls for Ryan’s ball-carrying ability to be included, but for me, Tuohy offers more than the Munster man. His strength on the ball is complemented by good skills and he is a shrewd operator out of touch. Tuohy was one of the stand-out players in the Wolfhounds loss to the Saxons, continuing his superb form for Ulster all season.

Paul O'Connell will captain Ireland on Sunday. (c) Ross Wynne.

5. Paul O’Connell – There will be no argument with this selection! O’Connell captains the side and is in the best form of his life. Even if you were to exclude his world-class leadership qualities, O’Connell is one of the best second-rows in the world right now. He has been immense for Munster all season, dragging them through games on several occasions. His ball-carrying, which was not always a strength, has improved immeasurably in the past six months. Expect another huge performance.

6. Stephen Ferris – If there is any Irish player who can match O’Connell’s level of performance this season, then  it’s Stephen Ferris. He has been vital to Ulster as they have developed into a side that looks like real contenders for the Heineken Cup. Bouncing defenders for fun and smashing opponents in the tackle, Ferris has been unstoppable. The physical side of his game has been complemented by his refined offloading and decision-making. Ferris is not just a wrecking ball, he offers pace and subtlety too.

7. Sean O’Brien – While Ireland’s lack of a breakdown specialist is a weakness, there are no standout options to perform that role. If Niall Ronan hadn’t been ruled out for the season, then I would have seriously considered him here. But O’Brien’s extreme physicality has to be accommodated somewhere. At his best, the 2011 ERC European Player of the Year can carry this team. He has proven calibre at this level and will be keen to show that the Welsh cannot nullify his impact a second time.

8. Jamie Heaslip – One idea I toyed with in my selection was playing O’Brien at the back of the scrum, meaning Heaslip would be dropped. If James Coughlan had been included in yesterday’s 32-man squad then I would have contemplated starting him. In the end though, Heaslip gets the nod. While he still hasn’t matched the heights of 2009, the Leinster No.8 offers experience, intelligence and a degree of ability at the breakdown. He will be out to prove himself as one of the tournament’s best No.8s

9. Conor Murray – The Munster scrumhalf is up against Leinster’s Eoin Reddan for the 9 jersey. We’ve gone for Murray due to the more all-round game he brings. While Reddan’s passing is crisp and his game well suited to a team on the front foot (witness Leinster’s hammering of Bath at the Aviva), Murray offers more. The 22-year-old has a physical presence that Reddan cannot match, is far more threatening around the fringes and possesses a cool head. It seems to be very difficult to fluster the youngster, whereas Reddan is at times susceptible to a lack of control. Murray against Mike Phillips at scrumhalf would be a fascinating battle of the world’s best and one with the potential to challenge him.

10. Jonathan Sexton – This was the hardest call to make and I changed it several times. Ronan O’Gara’s form for Munster means it is difficult to leave him out. Sexton nudged ahead on the basis that his style perhaps suits this game a little better. Physically stronger, Sexton is better equipped to handle the likes of Jamie Roberts and Toby Faletau running down his channel. While there is nothing wrong with O’Gara’s distribution, Sextons’s more all-round attacking game is more of a threat. The hope would be that Sexton has put his World Cup place-kicking nightmare behind him.

Sexton just about gets ahead of O'Gara at outhalf. (c) Ross Wynne.

11. Andrew Trimble – If Kidney were to pick his team on form, then Trimble would be one of the first names mentioned. The 27-year-old has never been an undisputed first-choice for Ireland, but surely now his time has come. He has been excellent for Ulster all season. 6 tries in 11 games highlights his finishing ability, but there is so much more to Trimble’s games than taking scoring opportunities. His work-rate is as high as you will see for a winger. Defensively aggressive and brave, Trimble is not afraid of getting stuck in. His strength and speed make him the complete winger.

12. Fergus McFadden – Gordon D’Arcy has been the man in possession of this jersey for what seems like an eternity. He has been a great servant to Ireland, that cannot be disputed. But the past two seasons have seen his influence gradually wane and the time has come to install a replacement. Leinster teammate Fergus McFadden fits the bill nicely. He is a different type of player to D’Arcy. He gets over the gainline through hard, direct lines using his pace whereas D’Arcy relies on his excellent footwork. D’Arcy is regarded as a fine defender but the truth is that he has missed some important tackles in recent times. McFadden’s passing has improved massively under Joe Schmidt (check his skip pass here), to the extent that he has the ability to distribute from 12.

13. Eoin O’Malley – It seems likely that Kidney will go for Keith Earls against Wales. Darren Cave would have been my first-choice but he too has been ruled out through injury. Next in line for me would be Leinster man O’Malley. He is a natural 13 and his form has been superb this season. The talk of his defence being weak appears to be based on one missed tackle, a tackle which wasn’t even his to make. In fact, O’Malley is an extremely competent defender. His positioning is always clever and he has exceptional ability at the breakdown. O’Malley’s low centre of gravity allows him to get over the ball, slowing it down or winning turnovers. He is also a real attacking talent, with quick feet and a strong pass off both sides.

14. Tommy Bowe – First off, I will admit that I have not seen much of Bowe for the Ospreys this season. However, even an off-form Bowe would be included in my team. 5 tries in 13 games would suggest that the Monaghan man hasn’t forgotten his way to the tryline. The Ospreys wing is one of the world’s best wingers and one of Ireland genuinely world-class players. The big occasion often brings out the best in Bowe. As always, he will be relied upon to make positive yards for Ireland as well as finishing any chance that comes his way. Going for Trimble and Bowe on the wings means Earls missing out. Trimble’s form sees him ahead of Earls while Bowe’s quality makes him undroppable.

15. Rob Kearney – Joe Schmidt has backed Kearney as his first-choice fullback this season despite the excellence of Isa Nacewa when filling in at 15 last season. But Kearney’s recent displays have justified Schmidt’s decision. The Louth native looks quicker than ever and clearly used his the time out last season to study the role of the modern fullback to a greater extent. Kearney’s understanding of when to counter-attack, when to kick and when to take contact make his decision-making a real strength. His defensive positioning and concentration look to have improved too. Fullback is another position where Ireland have a lack of genuine competition. Denis Hurley is nowhere near Kearney’s standard. In fact, Kearney’s younger brother David would appear to be the next best option.


16. Rory Best – The only other hooker in the squad and therefore a no-brainer.

17. Tom Court – Brett Wilkinson is the only other prop in the squad, but he can only cover loosehead. Court has played on both sides of the scrum so is included for that reason.

18. Donnacha Ryan – Ryan could cover second-row as well as the back-row, making him an obvious choice for the bench. He would have good impact too with his aggression and ability to make hard yards.

19. Peter O’Mahony – This is a seriously competitive spot, with plenty of competition to cover the back-row. O’Mahony gets the nod because he would be the one who could create the biggest impact. His abrasive, in-your-face style would be ideal if Ireland were struggling to impose themselves on Wales. O’Mahony fears nothing and would do everything in his power to unsettle the Welsh players.

20. Eoin Reddan – Once again, Reddan is the only other option in this position so has to be included in case of injury to Murray. In an ideal world, Paul Marshall would have been better to spring if Ireland were chasing the game.

21. Ronan O’Gara – What a man to have on the bench. Any sign of Sexton not handling the pressure and ROG could be relied upon. While there is an argument that Sexton should be now given free reign over the outhalf position, without the added pressure of O’Gara on the bench, the Leinster No. 10 should be well able to  deal with it.

22. Keith Earls – The Munster man scored 5 tries at the World Cup and clearly is a quality player. His best position is on the wing and he would benefit by both Munster and Ireland seeing this. However, for this game, his ability to fill in at centre, wing and fullback makes him an ideal replacement.


So, what do you make of that team? If you were in Declan  Kidney’s position who would you pick? Would you go for any wildcards? Would you give youth a real chance and blood all five uncapped players? Or would you stay loyal to the tried and tested? O’Gara or Sexton? Cronin or Best? Murray or Reddan?

Comment below with your starting 15/22!


Photos courtesy:  Ross Wynne.