It has been seven months since Ireland’s last six nations game against England. In spite of the lack of rugby played in that time, a sense of out with the old and in with the new continues to creep in around the national team.
Obviously, the outhalf position is the most talked about in the game. This is no exception in the Irish team. With Johnny Sexton now 35 and counting, perhaps this year’s Autumn Internationals is a good chance to hold auditions for the outhalf to take Ireland forward. Ireland are a big price to win the six nations as you can see when you navigate to this website
Since his debut in 2009, Sexton has accumulated 814 points in 91 caps. For over a decade, he has been the undisputed outhalf among the Irish squad. Since he was selected ahead of Ronan O’Gara against South Africa in 2009 he has never looked back. Of course, even when he went abroad to play for Racing 92 he was selected for international duty.
In 2018 he won the World Rugby Player of the Year Award, confirming his status among the best.
Despite his age, there have been very few retirement rumours surrounding the St. Mary’s College graduate. To illustrate this, he became captain after Rory Best’s retirement.
Yet, Irish Coach Andy Farrell will be looking to the future. With four more years to go until the next World Cup, he will be open to a changing of the guard. While it is possible that Sexton will still be playing in four years, there is a lot of time for Farrell to find and develop his successor.
Besides, there have been suggestions lately that the time has come for a new outhalf to take up the mantle. For example, in Leinster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final loss to Saracens last weekend, Sexton was very average in a first half where Leinster were blown away. In fact, Saracens deployed their regular fullback Alex Goode at outhalf for the game. By full time, he had 19 points that included Saracens only try. In comparison, Sexton was forgettable.
Furthermore, Sexton’s form off the tee has been called into question at times. The 6 Nations loss to England in March comes to mind.
As always though, Sexton won’t go down quietly. Especially with a Lions Tour to come in 2021. The competition is there and waiting in the wings. But, it seems like Sexton is the dictator of his own fate.
Round One will take place from 13 November to 15 November with fans enjoying rugby from Friday night until Sunday afternoon 😊 pic.twitter.com/sFIP7rxSfF
— Autumn Nations Cup (@autumnnations) September 10, 2020
Ross Byrne of Leinster is the obvious choice to immediately succeed Sexton. Farrell preferred the 25-year-old as his back-up 10 in the 6 Nations. Likewise, Leinster have great faith in him. To illustrate this, Byrne came in from the start against Ulster in the Pro14 final. He more than stood up and reminded everyone just why he is a contender for the green 10.
Speaking on ‘Off the Ball’ last week, Ronan O’Gara praised Byrne. In particular, he mentioned his strong running game, something he and Sexton have in common. O’Gara continued to say “he is really strong tactically and marshalls his team around the pitch”.
Considering his age profile and experience to date, Byrne perhaps offers the most to Ireland in the long term. A run of games at outhalf during the Autumn Internationals could solidify his status as the outhalf to take Ireland forward.
Similarly, Connacht’s Jack Carty is no footnote in this conversation. Already capped ten times, Carty is clearly able to do it on the big stage. However, Farrell chose to leave him out for the 6 Nations this year. There is little doubt that he has the tools to break back into the side, but whether he gets a chance to use them will be at Farrell’s discretion. At 28, he could be the right blend of experience and promise.
In Ulster, Billy Burns has made the outhalf position his own. Burns qualifies for Ireland thanks to his paternal grandfather. Previously, he won the 2014 World U-20 Championship with England. Another candidate on the young side, the 26-year-old will only develop with international experience. Farrell is clearly a fan of him. Burns was the third choice outhalf for the 6 Nations to date and could yet play a part.
Also in Ulster, Ireland’s forgotten man Ian Madigan is back on Irish shores. Once on the fringes of the Irish team, Madigan earned himself 30 caps. Nevertheless, when he left for Bordeaux in 2016, he all but exempted himself from selection. Since his return, Madigan has impressed. Yet, he remains an understudy to Burns. At 31, Madigan is unlikely to pick up where he left off for Ireland.
Finally, Joey Carbery is another who can compete for Sexton’s jersey. Carebery exploded onto the scene in 2016. For instance, his Ireland debut came from the bench in the historic 40-29 victory over New Zealand in Chicago. Then, he was an active part of the 2018 Grand Slam winning team and played in the summer tour win against Australia, and the Autumn International wins against Argentina and New Zealand again. However, Carbery has since been hampered by injuries. On the other hand, time is on his side. Still just 24, he has time to get his body right. It looks like he will have to wait before he can put his hand up for selection again.
Not to be. Commiserations @leinsterrugby, but well done on a superb season that delivered so many moments for us all to enjoy 👊🔵#ShoulderToShoulder pic.twitter.com/xIoshLpkS4
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) September 19, 2020