uncertain 'I don’t know if Johnny Sexton will travel for New Zealand tour', says Brian O’Driscoll
Legendary centre believes Ireland captain could sit out the summer tour against the All Blacks
The way Brian O’Driscoll sees it, his self-confessed lack of versatility wasn’t much use as a bench player.
That meant he never found himself in a situation as Ireland captain, where a head coach told him that a younger rival would be starting ahead of him for a Test match.
You can imagine Johnny Sexton’s reaction if, having recovered from a hamstring injury, Andy Farrell informed him Joey Carbery would continue as Ireland’s out-half for Sunday’s Six Nations clash against Italy.
O’Driscoll knows how Sexton ticks, and while he believes his former team-mate will be conscious of the bigger picture in terms of building towards next year’s World Cup, it was interesting to hear 133-times-capped former centre suggest that Sexton may not travel to New Zealand for Ireland’s upcoming summer tour.
“There’s two lines of thought here,” O’Driscoll said. “If Johnny goes to New Zealand, do you stand a better chance of picking up a victory? You would have to say yes.
“Would that be a huge boost of confidence going into the World Cup next year where you could potentially play against New Zealand in a quarter-final? Yes, it could.
“The alternative is: do we want him fit and fresh and energised for the World Cup? Yes. So you have conflicting thoughts.
“Johnny, of course, won’t not want to travel. There is the prospect that you could bring him down for the first Test match and send him home, so there are lots of different options you could have.
“Johnny will tell you that he is fit and strong and well and never been better or healthier, and he looks that way at the moment.
“But sometimes players need minding from themselves as well, particularly when there is a bigger goal like a World Cup and not a win in New Zealand, where you could run the risk of picking up an injury or getting tired because of so many games.”
Like most people, O’Driscoll can see the merits in Carbery (26) starting back-to-back Six Nations games for the first time in his career, especially considering Sexton (36) has the ability to hit the ground running in Twickenham in a fortnight.
It’s a fine balancing act, as O’Driscoll explained: “It’s tricky to not play your captain if he’s fit, particularly if you are looking at being ready for the England game.
“Johnny is one of the players that could come in and play against England, having gotten 20 minutes or half an hour against Italy.
“It’s a tough one. I would love to see Joey get a bit more game-time, not necessarily just this weekend, but over the course of the year.
“They have got to find a way because you cannot rely, going into a World Cup, on a guy of Sexton’s senior years. You just can’t put all your eggs into one basket.
“He has picked up a soft tissue injury last week, it does naturally happen the older you get, you have more of them.
“We just have to be mindful that we give enough game-time to our perceived second-string player and make sure that they are equipped and ready to go with the necessary game experience to take on World Cup matches.
“The fact it (France) was his first Six Nations start said it all. I would definitely encourage that Joey does get more game-time and maybe the time for him will be down in New Zealand.
“I don’t know whether Johnny will travel down there. Maybe he’ll (Carbery) get two or three Tests down there, but I think over the course of the coming months, he needs more starts.
“The big question that Andy Farrell has is ... he needs to work backwards. He needs to understand whether he is going to bring three out-halves to the World Cup or whether he is going to look at a Mike Lowry or a Mack Hansen and if they have the ability to fill in as an out-half for one of the other games.
“A lot is based on whether Johnny travels down to New Zealand or not. If he doesn’t then I think Jack Carty will naturally get more game-time down there.”
Farrell’s team selection today will tell a lot about his thinking, but from the Ireland boss’s point of view, right now, he is most concerned about winning the Six Nations.
Points difference could be crucial come the business end and, with Sexton in situ, Ireland have a better chance of racking up a bigger score against Italy this weekend.
“As much as Johnny is looking out for himself, Johnny will also see the bigger picture. He is not a completely selfish player,” O’Driscoll added.
“I think there is a selflessness that has come in with his captaincy too, where he does see the bigger picture.
“I think he would be absolutely accepting of the fact that Andy Farrell said, ‘I’m thinking of going with Joey’, I’d imagine he would argue the point that, ‘Well, maybe me this week and maybe an alternative game for Joey.’
“You don’t want to miss out on Test matches, no matter how many you have or how old you are. But if it’s for the bigger picture of a World Cup, I think Johnny would absolutely accept that as well.
“I think he has shown real maturity over the course of the last few years.”
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