JOE SCHMIDT MAY have erred on the side of caution when he refused to categorically rule Jonny Sexton out of the All Blacks match but the out-half will not be facing the world champions.
Sexton pulled up, and immediately clutched his hamstring, moments before the half-time whistle during Ireland’s home loss to Australia on Saturday. He waved off medical attention and teetered on the field for 30 seconds but, once Chris Pollock blew for half-time [and the Aussies brought out the benches and oranges] his face said it all.
A second hamstring injury in nine months and even the most optimistic of coaches would have to admit the Racing Métro man will be out for two weeks.
Ian Madigan may have replaced Sexton last night but Paddy Jackson looks odds-on to start against New Zealand. Jackson performed well in the 13-13 draw with France in the Six Nations and had his best game in green, to date, against Samoa. Still, for all the talk of Ireland’s depth, when it comes to playing the top sides, out-half is the one position Ireland did not need compromised by injury.
Schmidt conceded that Gordon D’Arcy had started against Samoa because he want an experienced head looking out for Jackson. The 10-12 partnership of Jackson and D’Arcy may not flourish against the Kiwis but teaming up Madigan and Luke Marshall may set their development, and confidence, back years.
Rob Kearney was left in the shade by the spectacular, evasive Israel Folau and his gravity-defying leaps. The Irish fullback’s defensive game was called into question again but he would have been hoping to face off against a man he has [occasionally] prospered against in the past — Israel Dagg. He left the fray after 76 minutes with damaged ribs and will be scanned today to ascertain whether his series is also over.
If Kearney is ruled out, Schmidt’s options will be Robbie Henshaw or Madigan. Schmidt spoke of building a squad of ’30, 35 players with the ability to play international rugby’ but, right now, his options appear limited.
Jared Payne’s qualification to play for Ireland can’t come quick enough.
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