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Jackman: 'I think it's a big mistake to bring Finn Russell ahead of Johnny Sexton'

Bernard Jackman believes that if the Scot becomes the Lions’ Test out-half against the Springboks, they’re ‘dead.’

Finn Russell (L) and Johnny Sexton (R).
Finn Russell (L) and Johnny Sexton (R).
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

EUROPEAN SEMI-FINAL EXITS. Existential crises. Budgetary differences — or, in fact, the lack thereof.

Oh, and throw a Lions squad announcement into the mix for good measure. Quiet week.

Bernard Jackman and Garry Doyle joined Gavan Casey on this week’s Rugby Weekly to sift through it all, with Jackman and Gavan hanging around for added Lions chat in a bonus episode of Rugby Weekly Extra for The42 members after the regularly scheduled Thursday recording.

In the regular pod, the headline exclusion from an Irish point of view — that of Johnny Sexton, with the greatest respect to James Ryan, Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander, Hugo Keenan and perhaps a couple more — wasn’t left hanging for long before being addressed.

Below is a written excerpt from the chat, and you can catch the full episode wherever you get your podcasts — and now, for the first time, on The42 app (click on ‘More’ –> ‘Podcasts’).

“You can absolutely put the exclusions of Ringrose and Ryan down to form — and it’s a loss of form on the back of a couple of injuries that have debilitated them or knocked them out of stride, and sometimes it just takes that little bit longer to rediscover that flow to what you’re doing on a weekly basis,” Gavan said.

But Sexton had form! It’s really just down to injury, isn’t it? Like, he was arguably the form out-half of the Six Nations even though he did miss some of it through injury: he was unbelievable against England, probably his best Test since 2018. He kicked Ireland to victory against Scotland. So, he can feel rightly aggrieved, I’d say, even though the selection in the circumstances is probably understandable because he hasn’t played recently.

“Absolutely,” Garry replied. “Take your first point there, what he did in the Six Nations: he landed 86% of his shots at goal, which is a higher percentage than any other player in the tournament.

“You look at that and you add in the other factors that he brings: his desire to win, his tactical intelligence, his defensive strength which is, let’s face it, much better than most fly-halves in the world.

“So, when you add all of those factors and then you think back to the 2017 Tour which turned on the back of his inclusion for the second Test, you’re basically wondering why he didn’t make it.

“And there are a couple of reasons why he didn’t.

If you look at his injury profile this year, he’s made five starts for Leinster and he’s come off hurt in four of those.

“He’s turning 36 in a couple of months. His durability must have been a concern for Gatland.”

Garry also factored into the equation Sexton’s competition, explaining in detail why this entire squad was “the toughest selection a Lions coach has had since 1989″.

But Jackman laid out his thoughts on Gatland’s big decision at 10 and why, in his opinion, the Kiwi had arrived at the wrong one:

I think it’s a big mistake to bring Finn Russell ahead of Johnny Sexton — even with Johnny having some injuries. I think if Finn Russell ends up being the starting Test Lion, Test 10, we’re dead.

“We’re dead,” Jackman reiterated. “I just think the way South Africa defend, he will run into all kinds of trouble and put others in trouble as well.

“I don’t see the logic in bringing Finn Russell ahead of him. I do feel sorry for Johnny in this situation and I totally think it’s down to worries about his durability and it’s just really unfortunate that he’s had these couple of knocks recently.

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“It’s interesting, Neil Jenkins spoke about how he’d never seen him kick as well as he has this season. It must be very close.

And knowing Johnny, he’ll feel sorry for himself for about 24 hours and then he’ll look to regroup and try to play as much as he can over the next month and a half. I’m sure he’ll be one of the players on standby and he could yet have a role to play.

“It’s difficult but I do think the Finn Russell one is a mistake.”

The lads also discussed the eight Irish inclusions, with Jackman suggesting we might even see a Test combination of Bundee Aki at 12 and Robbie Henshaw at 13 during the series.

Plus, there was a deep dive into both Ulster and Leinster’s weekend defeats and the different issues preventing each province from taking the respective next step in Europe, with some humble pie digested along the way for good measure.

The42 Rugby Weekly is available to everyone, every Thursday, wherever you get your podcasts. For extra podcasts with Murray Kinsella and Eoin Toolan every Monday, and to enter the vaunted members rugby WhatsApp group, support our independent sports journalism and join The42.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Bernard Jackman, Garry Doyle and Gavan Casey discuss Gatland’s Lions selection and the bigger picture for Ulster and Leinster following European defeats.

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