ENGLAND HEAD COACH Eddie Jones has, unprompted, once again aimed fire at Johnny Sexton by claiming the Ireland out-half receives preferential treatment from referees.
With Owen Farrell nursing a hip knock following a hit he suffered from South African Andre Esterhuizen last weekend, Jones argued the England 10 is given insufficient protection from officials, while Sexton is protected.
“If he was Johnny Sexton, then we’d be able to complain about him, but because he’s Owen Farrell he’s allowed to be hit late,” Jones told English media yesterday.
“He gets up and he plays on. He’ll be like that this week.”
Jones’ latest comments, ahead of England’s Test against New Zealand tomorrow, reopens old wounds after he targeted Sexton two years ago and was subsequently forced to apologise for making reference to the Leinster out-half’s parents in a debate about a neck injury.
While Sexton and Ireland will pay little attention to the Australian’s remarks and accusations, they are sure to heighten tensions between the camps ahead of next year’s Six Nations opener in Dublin.
Jones’ decision to shift the emphasis and focus on Sexton when talking about his own player has been seen as a tactic to move the debate away from his side’s November international against the All Blacks at Twickenham.
“It’s to throw the banger over in that direction to take attention away from what is the mainstay point,” Brian O’Driscoll says.
“Here we are talking about it, rather than the actual point, who’s going to win the match. It’s a side plot to the bigger theme of what’s more important, the game on Saturday.”
Speaking in Dublin ahead of Ireland’s Guinness series opener against Argentina tomorrow, O’Driscoll was asked if he feels Sexton is more protected by referees.
“Do I think he’s more protected? Farrell throws it around a lot more than Johnny Sexton, so maybe from that perspective there’s less sympathy when he cops a late one, because he’s prone to the odd loose one himself — as the end of the game [v South Africa] showed.
“That’s my take on it. He doesn’t need protecting.
“But I think as well that Johnny, even more so than Owen Farrell, Johnny takes the ball to the line and encourages those shots, because they are marginal, a lot of them. But he’s clever enough to throw them as early as not always to get the heat.
“So if he throws it half a second away from the contact and someone still follows through, it’s a call for the referee to make. Sometimes he’ll accept the one he throws right on the line, he gets right after he releases it, but that’s fair game.
“But now we’re achieving exactly what Eddie was hoping for.”
On Farrell’s controversial late and ‘no-arms’ hit on Esterhuizen in the dying embers of last week’s win over the Springboks, O’Driscoll admits his initial assertion that the referee made the right call to let it go unpunished was wrong.
“I backed the referee’s call immediately after the game, and I’ve actually revised that thought,” the former Ireland captain added.
I actually didn’t understand it, and as a pundit maybe it’s a disgrace, but I actually thought if it’s an attempted wrap with the non-tackling shoulder that would suffice.
“But it doesn’t. There has to be a wrap with the tackling shoulder. You can’t hold one arm down so I stand corrected there on the basis that it obviously is a penalty.”
O’Driscoll is part of the World Rugby judging panel which has nominated Sexton for the 2018 Player of the Year award, alongside All Blacks out-half Beauden Barrett and Springbok duo Faf de Klerk and Malcolm Marx.
“Of course he can win it,” he said of Sexton’s chances of becoming just the second Irish player behind Keith Wood to scoop the prestigious accolade. “I’m only one of eight judges so he is one eighth of the way there.
“He’s been one of the most consistent players but sometimes we can get forgotten about by our southern hemisphere counterparts.
“Hopefully the other judges from the north, Clive Woodward, Maggie Alphonsi and Fabien Galthie, will give weight to his achievements. He would be a worthy winner.”
Brian O’Driscoll was on hand to preview Ireland’s game against Argentina as a part of Guinness’ #AnswerIrelandsCall campaign. Fans should visit the Guinness Facebook page and leave their message of support using the #AnswerIrelandsCall to be in with a chance to win tickets to the Guinness Series.
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