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Simon Hick’s View from the Frontline: Sexton needs to kick on, even if he’s dropped

It looks like Ronan O’Gara will start against the Italians. but this set-back could be the making of his Leinster counterpart.

Sliding doors: Sexton and O'Gara.
Sliding doors: Sexton and O'Gara.
Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

WHEN THE DOMINANT lion comes to the end of his career as leader of the pack, the younger males will sense it and make a series of attacks to wrestle that power from him.

To add insult to injury, they’ll also swagger off with a couple of the better looking lionesses.

The leader will lose one or two of these fights, look like he is done for, before making one last heroic effort to hang on to his crown, going at the largest of the young pretenders with a renewed ferocity.

Yes, it looks like Ronan O’Gara is going to start against Italy.

This is a reflection of what Sexton hasn’t done rather than what O’Gara has done (though the veteran is playing great rugby). Most parts of the Leinster player’s game are in great shape too though, but the bit he is getting judged on is the binary one – did the ball go over the bar or not.

No one area of a team’s performance is so corrosive on all the others – if the points aren’t taken, panic sets in.

O’Gara had to go through a harrowing experience of losing a Heineken Cup final to Northampton in order to face his kicking demons. Sexton has won everything major he’s been in contention for, so has never gone through the same process. If he is dropped for this game, it could be the making of him – not just for the long or medium term, but for the rest of this World Cup.

Looking at that 2011 Heineken Cup final, it’s hard to believe anything could ever go wrong for Sexton again, so bulletproof was his confidence and technique. This was a man who, among a group of gifted, willful and powerful personalities, decided he would be the one to stand up and speak at half-time, be the one to create the tries, score the tries, kick the penalties and run the match.

He must be cursing the face that his kicking has gone awry at a World Cup, having been flawless in the other big games of his career. It can’t be a stress issue, which would suggest his technique is flawed. But if he has those 95% success days, then it must be pretty good.

Making par

Sexton is a very good golfer, and knows that, like place kicking, these sorts of striking skills ebb and flow to some extent, and he has fixed this problem before, and will do so again. What he will now be asking himself is, though, where do the 25% success days come from, because they don’t happen to Morne Steyn or Yachvilli or James Hook.

The most likely thing is his technique is too reliant on perfect timing, so when he’s a small bit out, a lot can go wrong. He needs a solid second serve, a rescue club shot, a long-ball from the keeper – a back-up plan that allows him kick the ones on the 22-metre line, no matter what else has happened him.

Kidney will have been sitting on the edge of his seat the last three games praying it comes right for the player, but his finger hovering on the button at the same time.

The pressure on the manager is unprecedented.

He has to get this one right, not only to get Ireland into a winnable World Cup quarter final, but also to ensure Ireland’s future outhalf comes through this whole experience a better player, not a broken one.

Now catch up on the Happy Camper’s postcards from inside Ireland’s travelling army here>

All the news and analysis you need on our Rugby World Cup mini-site>

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