contract talks To write Johnny Sexton off on the back of his performances this year still feels premature
Ireland captain hoping to bring contract limbo to an end and play at 2023 World Cup
Johnny Sexton remains Ireland's best out-half, and by some distance too.
e may not have had a vintage year in green, but then again who has?
When you are the oldest player in the team and falling short of the lofty standards you set for yourself, it's easy for others to point the finger and pack you off to the retirement home.
Sexton's situation is exacerbated by the fact that he has taken on the captaincy of a side that is in flux from the top down.
For all that he has had his injury problems in recent weeks, it is worth remembering that Sexton started every one of Ireland's Six Nations games this year.
Of course, he must be managed, the same way as any other 35-year-old playing at this level must be, but to write him off on the back of his performances this year still feels somewhat premature.
There is, however, no doubt that Sexton faces a big couple of months in his quest to extend his Ireland contract and make next summer's Lions tour.
The first part of that seems like a formality and despite the IRFU not being flush with cash at this moment in time, Sexton is still a vital cog in the wheel.
Had all contract talks not been put on hold due to the pandemic, it is likely that we wouldn't still be having this debate over the merits of extending the veteran's current deal.
If Sexton makes it to the 2023 World Cup and is still Ireland's starting out-half, then it will say as much about his enduring class as it will about the quality of the younger No 10s coming through.
Billy Burns showed glimpses of his potential against Georgia last weekend and it was perhaps not a coincidence that Ireland lost their way after the Ulster man went off injured shortly after half-time.
That said, Burns remains unproven at Test level.
Ross Byrne hasn't done his chances much good over the last fortnight, while the latest pretender to Sexton's throne, Ross's younger brother Harry, has now linked up with the squad.
It would be a big call on Andy Farrell's part to name Harry Byrne (21) on the bench against Scotland on Saturday, especially considering the Ireland head coach didn't deem that he was ready to face Georgia last weekend.
Sexton will relish the younger Byrne being in camp this week because if nothing else it will provide him with a chance to remind everyone that he isn't finished just yet.
From listening to Sexton speak, it is clear he thinks that too many people are writing him off, including some of his former team-mates, but it merely adds fuel to his fire.
Throughout his illustrious 14-year career, Sexton has been at his best when he feels his back is against the wall.
"All I want to do is be the best I can be, first of all, and if that means I'm the best out-half for any given game or whatever, then why shouldn't you play? That's the attitude I've got," he said.
Earlier this week, IRFU performance director David Nucifora insisted that when it comes to beginning contract negotiations, Sexton will not be judged on his age but rather his form.
It begs the question: does this uncertainty heap even more pressure on players and force them to try too hard?
"Yeah, that's one way of looking at it definitely," Sexton maintained.
"Obviously guys have to go out and prove themselves so that can be a very motivating thing. You've got to try and flip your mindset.
"You've got to just go, 'Look, it's more games for me to prove that I deserve another contract or whatever.' I'm not talking about myself here, I'm talking about other guys.
"Look, it's an uncertain time, as I've said before, and we're working with people here in the backroom staff that are on much-reduced pay, a lot more so than us as players, and they don't have security going forward.
"We're all in it together and the guys that are making the decisions in the union probably don't have any certainty either in terms of their future.
"We'll get to the right solutions when we can and when the time is right and there's a clear picture of what's in front."
Sexton called the IRFU's bluff in the past when he moved to Racing 92, but that was a different time, as he was only coming into the prime of his career in 2013.
It's difficult to imagine something similar happening this time, especially as long as the other out-halves don't legitimately force the issue.
For now, Sexton remains pivotal to Ireland's plans going forward. Time will tell if the IRFU view him as pivotal enough to hand him a new central contract.
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