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Brian O'Driscoll: 'It is a really big ask of Johnny at 38 years of age'

By Josh Raisey
Jonathon Sexton, Ireland, leaves the pitch with Dr Eanna Falvey, left, Ireland team doctor, after picking up an injury. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE (Photo by Sportsfile/Corbis/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The balancing act of managing Johnny Sexton’s workload this World Cup is one of the greatest challenges Andy Farrell, or any coach, will face.

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This is an art that has been perfected by the Ireland coach, in conjunction with Leinster, over the past four years as his captain has moved deeper and deeper into his thirties and a few more greys have appeared. Seldom does the No10 feature against lower ranked teams, as Farrell holds him back for the big guns. But now at the age of 38, and with his last competitive match in March, this challenge has grown infinitely harder.

Ireland get their World Cup campaign underway against Romania on Saturday, which is the gentlest of their four Pool B matches to ease Sexton back into action after a groin injury and a ban have robbed him of any playing time. That is exactly what Farrell has done for the match in Bordeaux on Saturday, but with Tonga, South Africa and Scotland to follow, as well a potential quarter-final, working out how to help Sexton find form while simultaneously managing his minutes while also playing him in the biggest matches must feel like spinning plates on a tightrope for Farrell and Sexton himself.

However, Brian O’Driscoll has every confidence that if anyone is capable of pulling off such a feat, it is his former teammate.

“Crystal balling here, but I would imagine he’ll start in the first game,” Sexton’s former captain said to RugbyPass at the launch of Guinness’ ‘Don’t Jinx It’ campaign recently ahead of the team announcement.

“Maybe sit on the bench against Tonga, come on for 20 minutes if needs be, and then we’ve got to start him in the biggest games in the pool against South Africa and Scotland.

“So it’s a big ask, it is a really big ask of Johnny at 38 years of age, but he’s put himself in the mix to finally try and achieve something with Ireland that no team has done before. If anyone is capable of doing it at his age, knowing his professionalism what it is, it’s Sexto. I think we’ll all be holding our breath with every impact with every collision that he’s involved in. But that hasn’t been any different for three or four years anyway.”

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A further spanner was thrown into the works over August as South Africa and Scotland produced some mightily impressive performances, with the Springboks subjecting the All Blacks to a record defeat being the headline victory.

Looking ahead to the matches against South Africa and Scotland over the next month, the 133-cap Ireland centre confessed he has found it increasingly difficult to predict the outcome of the pool.

“Scotland have been impressive, a really great comeback victory against France, and pushed France in France pretty close,” he said. “So playing with a lot of confidence, playing with a huge amount of freedom, really loose and fast. They’re in a great position where they’ve nothing to lose playing against the current champions and the current number one team in the world. So the expectation is for those two teams to qualify but they’ll have something to say about that I would imagine before we get to to knockout football.

“You look at what’s happened with South African and New Zealand a couple of weeks back. I think everyone sat up and watched them and was very surprised about how physical, how dominant South Africa were against what was one of a lot of people’s favourites in New Zealand over the back of their performances in the Rugby Championship. So I think everyone’s opinion has changed a bit and I’ve done a few interviews in the last two or three months and it does feel as though I seem to be changing my opinion depending on what the most recent result and performance looks like, which makes it exciting because it’s the most open World Cup than ever before.”

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Brian O'Driscoll
Guinness Ambassador, Brian O’Driscoll has teamed up with Guinness to help launch their new rugby campaign ‘Don’t Jinx It’. This Autumn, Guinness is asking fans to resist the urge to tempt fate. Remember – Think It, Don’t Jinx It.

Should Ireland successful navigate their way out of Pool B, they then face the prospect of either tournament hosts France or three-time winners the All Blacks in the quarter-finals. Ireland boast a win over both opponents in their last encounters, but they are still the two hardest possible fixtures Ireland could have.

France have been beset by injuries over recent weeks while the All Blacks’ last fixture before heading into the World Cup was their harrowing loss to South Africa. Both sides face each other in the World Cup curtain raiser, and O’Driscoll is waiting until after that match to decide who he would rather see Ireland face down the line.

“We’ve got to wait and see what comes in on Friday. I think that France team, with no Danty, no Ntamack, no Willemse, it might not weaken them in the 15 significantly, but what it does do is it has an impact on the bench, on the next group of players coming, the finishers in games.

“I’ll wait and see. France have only won once in the last 15 against the All Blacks. So we perhaps have a slightly inflated view of the head-to-heads because of that great game and a couple of seasons ago. So I think I’ll hold fire until I see what comes from that first up game, which should be full of fireworks.”

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1 Comment
B
Bob Marler 283 days ago

This reads a lot like, “Grandpa took his last stroll…”.

If it’s such a big ask, retire him already.

😉

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