“I’m surprised you guys haven’t settled on Reddan and Sexton. They had a great pace to them against England and I was thinking that these guys could be a real handful for us.”
So spake Matt Burke, Australian legend and one of the greatest fullbacks of the professional era. Now, let’s not pretend that Australians keep on top of Northern Hemisphere rugby with any sort of diligence. Still, Mattie has a hell of a lot more credibility in Mole Towers than the average digger windbag. And he’s right.
The Mole will, despite himself, make the very obvious point that Ireland’s best performance since 28 November 2009 – when we beat the strong Springbok team that had won the Tri-Nations two months earlier – came against England in the last game of the Six Nations on 19 March 2011. Maybe the performance against England was a little more eye-catching, and it was certainly a bigger winning margin, but they’re nowhere near the team the champion Boks were. Jonny Sexton was at outhalf for both games.
In the 20 caps that Sexton has won in his international career to date [comprised of 15 starts and 5 appearances off the bench], he has started with Reddan in just four of them: his debut, vs Fiji in Nov 2009; the two-point loss against South Africa in Nov 2010; the defeat to New Zealand a week later; and the aforementioned victory over England.
Since that England game, Ireland have played six games [four international warm-ups in August, a game against Connacht, and the first pool game against the USA], and the pair haven’t started a single one of them together.
It’s very, very difficult to see that as anything other than poor selection. In fact it’s close to mindboggling. We’ve had O’Leary/Sexton [vs Scotland], Reddan/O’Gara [vs France], Boss/Wallace [vs Connacht], O’Leary/Sexton [vs France], Reddan/O’Gara [vs England], Murray/Sexton [vs USA] … and now we have Reddan/Sexton again. They haven’t played a game together since the Magner’s League Grand Final, on the 28th May. That’ll be sixteen weeks exactly on Saturday, the day of the Australia match.
And it’s not as though this is the middle of the season. They haven’t been playing together with Leinster in the meantime. They simply haven’t started a game together in four months. Ideal preparation for an enormously significant game.