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Why Paul O'Connell is confident about Ireland minus Johnny Sexton

By PA
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Paul O’Connell has no reservations about the possibility of Ross Byrne, Jack Crowley or Ciaran Frawley starting a Rugby World Cup match in place of influential Ireland captain Johnny Sexton.

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Suspension has ruled fly-half Sexton out of his country’s warm-up matches against Italy, England and Samoa, leaving a trio of inexperienced understudies vying to stake their claim for the role.

Frawley remains uncapped at international level, while his Leinster teammate Byrne and Munster man Crowley have just four Test starts between them.

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Veteran Sexton will complete his three-match ban in time to feature in Ireland’s World Cup opener against Romania on September 9 but he is short of match fitness having not played since March due to injury.

Although forwards coach O’Connell acknowledged that the stand-in options are Test rookies, he would back each of them to perform on the biggest stage if required.

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“I’d be confident in all of them,” he said ahead of Saturday’s Dublin clash with Italy. “One of the strengths we have is that we have good clarity on how we are trying to play the game and the players have to take ownership of that clarity quite a lot. You do figure out a guy that is unsure very, very quickly.

“But all of our guys know how we want to play. They don’t have as much practice at it or as much experience as Johnny has of taking ownership of it but that is why these few weeks will be great for them.

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“We play differently to Munster and to Leinster and the guys that are there but there are a lot of similarities as well so it’s nothing massively new to them.

“They have all driven the ship for their provinces in big, big games and done really well. There is a little bit of a tweak to how we do things and they have got to pick that up.”

Sexton’s last competitive action was four and a half months ago when he limped off with a groin issue during Ireland’s Grand Slam-clinching win over England.

The 38-year-old, who has 113 caps for his country, has been training fully with Andy Farrell’s 42-man preliminary squad this summer ahead of his last competition before retirement.

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Ireland’s selection is due to be cut to a final 33 on August 28 and O’Connell has urged those who do miss out to not feel too disheartened. “It’s not all or nothing,” said the 43-year-old, who represented Ireland at four World Cups between 2003 and 2015.

“You hope that by being in here, training with us, training with good players, that players are improving and they are looking at their opportunity to get a chance, to try to get picked for the World Cup and, if they don’t, that they break in in the future.

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“They all want to go to the World Cup for sure, but selection for the World Cup is not an all-or-nothing thing. I’m sure plenty of guys are going to be disappointed.

“They have their sights set on getting their chances and taking it but I think they’re all going to be better on the back of this pre-season.”

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William 2 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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