Jonny Sexton set to torment Wallabies again
November 12, 2013
Jonny Sexton enjoyed himself on the Lions tour of Australia © Getty Images
Jonny Sexton will return to the Ireland backline to torment the Wallabies for the second time this year, the British & Irish Lions hero among a number of big guns set to be taken out of cotton wool for the Test at Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Sexton was rested while fellow Lions tourists Sean O'Brien and Paul O'Connell were on the bench for Ireland's 40-9 win over Samoa at the weekend, their first Test of the northern hemisphere season, but the trio's likely return to the starting side is tempered by the expected loss of another Lions hero, Tommy Bowe.
Bowe is rated no better than a "day-to-day" prospect by team manager Mick Kearney, due to a painful calf injury that has ruled him out of training. Ireland have also lost rising flanker Chris Henry to a hamstring problem after new coach Joe Schmidt's first game in charge.
The victory against Samoa saw Ireland rise to No.6 on the world rankings, two places behind Australia, but New Zealander Schmidt said "we're a fair way off that".
"We're going to have to be twice as good as we were against Samoa," he said, noting Ireland were split out wide a series of times early in the match.
Enter the Autumn Internationals Fantasy Game © Scrum.com
The Wallabies regularly defeat Ireland in Australia, but they have to failed to win in their past three meetings overseas. The 15-6 Rugby World Cup 2011 pool loss at Eden Park in Auckland was most painful, while the 21-6 hammering in 2006 highlighted how Australia have often struggled in wet conditions and the 20-20 draw on their last visit to Dublin, in 2009, ended their shot at a Grand Slam.
O'Brien was a standout at Eden Park two years ago, turning the ball over at the breakdown and keeping ball-runners up in mauls, but Jamie Heaslip, another Lions tourist, said: "We've got players all over the field that can win turnovers."
And Sexton looms as a danger man after finally proving himself to an Australian audience with his superb performance in the Lions' series-winning 41-16 rout in the third Test against the Wallabies in July.
The battle of the coaches also promises intrigue, as Ewen McKenzie interviewed for the Ireland job after Declan Kidney was sacked after a dreadful Six Nations campaign. Schmidt, who took Leinster to Pro-12 and European titles after assistant coaching jobs at Clermont and the Blues, was always the favourite for the job, however, and McKenzie subsequently won the Wallabies role from Jake White after the sacking of Robbie Deans.
McKenzie refused to answer when asked if he would have taken the Ireland job had it been offered, but said it suited the Irish union to invest in the coaching style that had worked for Leinster. "You won't find anyone to say a bad word about him," McKenzie said of Schmidt. "He excites the players and gets the best out of them so it's a good situation for him and it's a good situation for Ireland."
Brian O'Driscoll played a starring role in Ireland's victory over Manu Samoa © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
ESPN looks at the forthcoming season of the Guinness PRO12 and assesses how each of the 12 teams will do
"Like the Treaty of Versailles, despite all the promises, the new Participation Agreement is certainly not the final solution." John Taylor writes
"We know where we are going and we know where we want to get but how long that will take is anybody's guess." David Humphreys on his plans for Gloucester
Jim Mallinder and Justin Burnell were sat on the same top table, but in different circumstances. Tom Hamilton reports on the Aviva Premiership season launch