In the words of the flight of the conchords, it’s business time!
The 6 Nations moves into the important minutes this weekend as week 3 of the competition kicks off. Scotland take on Wales and Ireland welcome the French to the Aviva and on Sunday England take on a battered and already beaten Italy.
For Ireland the call is Sexton or Jackson, Jackson or Sexton. Start with Jackson and bring on Sexton or start with Sexton and (assuming he gets injured) bring on Jackson. Some pundits think that when fit, Sexton starts and some think that Jackson has proven himself in the time sexton has been injured. Some also say that if Carbery didn’t get injured he would be the understudy for Sexton.
But let’s look at the 1 and 2 in the 10 shirt as it stands.
Jackson has recovered from being treated horribly by Declan Kidney way back in 2013. Kidney was feeling the pressure and threw Jackson into the team as a starter. It was maybe 12 months too early for Jackson and it put him back a couple of years in terms of his development. But now he has worked himself back into being a proper team general, a boss and has the confidence to be the playmaker. It was hard for him against Scotland. He had very little to work with due to an underperforming pack. The second half showed him come into the game more and scored a classy try where he backed himself. It was great to see. The team celebrating with him showed that they wanted it for him too, which is important.
Now onto the great Jonathan Sexton. The best 10 of the modern era? Maybe I cannot say that until the career is finished, but I haven’t quite put my blue jersey away yet. Sexton is more than a player. He has the ability to drag his team forward, to out think the opposition and to put himself on the line for his team and the jersey. The last one is a quality that every other player you will see on the pitch on Saturday will have so let’s look at the other two. Sexton has on many occasions brought his team through a game. Going back to the Northampton Heineken cup final and it was Sexton who started the comeback and who took the half time team talk. He has been doing this as a regular thing since his big match debut against Munster in Croke Park. What I am saying is that there is a history there of Sexton bringing a team back from the brink.
Now on to out thinking the opposition. Both Sexton and Jackson have been good in this area over the last few seasons. Sexton and Leinster maybe depended on the loop pass and following the ball for too long, but that play has been updated and will be seen on Saturday if he starts.
So for me, the only real difference here is a history of performing at the top level in every jersey. Sexton leads that by quite a bit. Ulster are like Clermont, in that they are a semi-final team. Any time they are in a position to make final, they have struggled. Is that because Jackson was unable to out think the opposition? Or to bring his team forward into the game? Sexton has done this numerous times. Jackson has not had the opportunity to prove he has done this; yes he has played well in the green jersey, but not in a massive game. Carbery was called in as backup for Sexton in November which shows you where he is in the coach’s thoughts. Madigan has been out of inclusion since 2013, but that is another story for another blog.
Using history, Sexton is a nose ahead. Using form is impossible as Sexton hasn’t played. He has been injured. Whilst on the pitch he has been a different class to every other player he faces. He has shown an ability to hit the ground running after injury better than nearly any player ever injured in any sport. Jackson however has been there, week in week out and performing. He is one of the only shining lights this season for Ulster and he has been consistent and a game manager in green. So in form, Jackson is a nose ahead.
We are at a 1-1 so far.
So now. What about the team? If you were in the squad and you had developed a playing connection and a trust in your 10 over time and they switched it for the king of the jersey, how would you feel? Would you welcome the tried and trusted back into the fold? Or would you want to have the backup built up to the same level? Does it not put a bad message out to the team where form isn’t important, it is all about who did it best over a certain time period?
For me, I would start Jackson. I would put the message out there that no player is bigger than the jersey. I would trust the player who has played the position. I may be the only person on the island saying this but I think the team is more important than the player. For the French game, I think it sends a fantastic message if he starts Jackson. It is not out of charity; Jackson deserves the start through his play over the last while.
Imagine Sexton coming on with Healy and O’Mahony at 50 minutes to close out the game and win it?
Joe will pick Sexton; Ireland will win by a score and will march to Cardiff with a whiff of a championship in their nostrils.
Until next time, @nkeegan on twitter and @kdubdd on the instagram