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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 9 March 2021

Sexton injury allows Ryan first captaincy chance with 'Pete backing him up'

Ireland will be hoping their 35-year-old out-half is fit for this weekend’s visit to Twickenham.

James Ryan took over as Ireland captain on Friday night.
James Ryan took over as Ireland captain on Friday night.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THERE WAS UNDERSTANDABLE confusion on Friday night as the TV shots showed Peter O’Mahony pointing to the posts on a couple of penalty decisions, but James Ryan was indeed the Ireland captain after Johnny Sexton departed injured.

24-year-old Ryan took over the Ireland captaincy for the first time at senior level and while he clearly had a firm helping hand from O’Mahony on some of the big calls, this was one positive of Sexton being forced off.

“I think it was fantastic, yeah, him speaking to the players at half time,” said Ireland head coach Andy Farrell on Friday night. “He’s growing all the time in his leadership.

“And it wasn’t just James on his own, Pete’s backing him up there and perfectly willing to do that as part of the leadership group.

“That leadership group is growing in stature and growing in knowledge all the time and it’s young enough in parts, but it’s on the right trajectory.”

Farrell would have hoped things went better for Sexton’s direct replacement at out-half, Billy Burns. Having been sent on for the injured skipper in the first half, Burns only got 36 minutes of action as he too was forced off due to a head injury, meaning Conor Murray played to closing 15 minutes at out-half.

It certainly wasn’t a smooth Ireland performance after Sexton’s departure – indeed, their third quarter was particularly poor – but again, Farrell will feel there was at least some value in his team having to play without their talisman.

Ireland had already been disrupted late in the week by the injury withdrawals of Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale, so the head coach was pleased to see his team adapt. 

“That’s how we train,” said Farrell. “Everyone is included. Everyone is responsible for how we act and train. We are adaptable as a group and we train like that so you would expect that to happen, albeit it happened a little bit differently than what we thought it could have happened.

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andy-farrell Farrell was pleased with how his team adapted. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“There were a few things that happened before the game and that was fine because even though Tadgh Beirne wasn’t in the matchday 23 and Andrew Conway wasn’t, they trained fully last week and trained really, really well, so we had no qualms about them coming in and fitting in because they had done the preparation like they should do in anticipation of someone dropping out.

“We had no problem with Quinn [Roux] going in there. You have to be adaptable. With these times, the scare of Covid stuff, I suppose that’s the key word for absolutely everyone and I think that’s going to help in the long-term really.”

It will obviously be a big blow for Ireland if Sexton is ruled out of this weekend’s Autumn Nations Cup trip to face England in Twickenham, given the gap between him and the rest of the out-half depth chart, but again there may be some benefit in Farrell’s hand being forced.

For too long, we have been talking about an Ireland team that is overly reliant on Sexton, so seeing how they fare without him against the Six Nations champions would be interesting.

Whether Ireland are with or without Sexton, they understand that they need to shift up several gears this weekend after beating a poor Welsh team.

“I think we need to build on what we started this week, a proper realisation of what it takes to be a fully-prepared international side,” said Farrell.

“There’s different stages in our mentality as international players and understanding of what it takes to prepare properly.

“What’s happened this week is the lads that have been there, done that and understand what it really takes have really come to the fore in educating others about what it takes to get up to that type of standard.

“That disparity has been really closed over the last couple of weeks – that gap has been closed and we need to work harder in making sure that it keeps getting closer.

“We need to get on the same page so that we’re as cohesive as we possibly can be, which is what you need to be as a unit going to Twickenham.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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