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Does Johnny Sexton need more support in his role as Ireland captain?

This week’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly asked whether the out-half requires more leadership around him.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

WHILE THERE HAS been plenty of discussion about Johnny Sexton’s captaincy of Ireland in recent times, there hasn’t been as much focus on the support – or maybe the lack thereof – the out-half is receiving in his role.

35-year-old Sexton succeeded the now-retired Rory Best as Ireland skipper at the start of this year as new head coach Andy Farrell backed his experience. 

Speaking on today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly podcast, Bernard Jackman questioned how much leadership is around Sexton in this Ireland team at present.

The former Grenoble and Dragons coach is of the belief that Ireland boss Farrell needs to focus on developing more leaders over the course of the upcoming Autumn Nations Cup and beyond.

“What most successful teams have and what most coaches are hoping to foster is a shared leadership across four or five different players,” said Bernard.

“They don’t need to have a bucketload of experience but they need to have influence on the group.

“I think there is a question mark around the leadership group in this Irish team and that’s not just Johnny. Everyone looks at Johnny but the days of the captain being all-encompassing and running everything are gone.

“Looking back to the World Cup, there was huge talk around the leadership group being disenfranchised with the game plan and training too hard, etc., and Rory Best in his book mentioned that. It caused a bit of controversy.

“But the reality is that the leadership group probably missed an opportunity to affect change or control the performance in the World Cup and Joe is the one who got most of the criticism.

“Since then, in the big games like England away and France away, when things have gone amiss a bit, it seems like Johnny is the only one everyone is looking to. That’s tough on him, particularly the way Ireland play and so much going through him. That’s difficult.

iain-henderson Ulster captain Iain Henderson returns to the Ireland XV tomorrow. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We’re talking about blooding players and increasing our depth but a massive part of it for Farrell is to find new leaders – four or five players who are going to be first-choice or at least in our matchday 23 who can share that load.


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“From what I understand, some of the guys who have been doing that in the past were Rory Best, Johnny, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, and Keith Earls.

“CJ is not in the squad this week, Earlsie is on the bench, Peter is starting, Conor is on the bench, Rory has retired. I know Garry Ringrose has been earmarked as a leader by Leinster and I would imagine Ireland as well. It’s about having shared responsibility. 

“The interesting one is Eddie Jones. If you look at England when they play, at half-time before the players go into the dressing room, they have a little huddle on the field, they have various leaders in different areas of the game – not just Owen Farrell – speak and give feedback around how it has gone.

“Before Eddie Jones and the coaches speak to the players, they take on board what the leaders in the team feel. If what the coaches feel is completely different, they have that discussion and make sure they understand where the game is going.

“Farrell has to adapt to that and create it. It’s another area where Ireland are just finding their feet. It’s an area that when we get right will help us be more successful.”

Elsewhere on today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly, Gavan Casey, Bernard, and Murray Kinsella discussed what James Lowe will bring on his debut against Wales tomorrow, how Jamison Gibson-Park could change things at scrum-half, and Farrell’s seven changes to the Ireland XV.

There was also chat about Seán O’Brien’s assertion that top professional players should be allowed to play for their home clubs, as well as a look ahead to another busy weekend for the four Irish provinces.

You can listen to The42 Rugby Weekly below or on your favourite podcast app.

Bernard, Murray, and Gavan look ahead to Ireland’s Autumn Nations Cup campaign and discuss whether top pros should be allowed to play AIL rugby:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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