Stuart Barnes has claimed that Ireland offer no threat in attack when both Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are starting at nine and 10.
The former England international was speaking to Off The Ball about Ireland’s recent problems in attack and pinned much of the blame on the shoulders of Murray and Sexton.
Jamison Gibson-Park has started at scrum-half for Ireland‘s last two games due to an injury to Murray, and the former Bath player backed the Leinster player to start again for the encounter with Scotland.
‘When you play Murray & Sexton, there is no threat at all..” 🏉
— Off The Ball (@offtheball) March 3, 2021
“In 2017 Conor Murray was playing as well as any scrum-half in the world. He has that kicking game, but he had a fast game, he had a lethal try-scoring ability from five metres and he could break,” Barnes said.
“He has had injuries, he is a little bit older, I just think when you play Murray and Sexton, there is no threat at all and it forces Ireland to retreat in the way they play.
“While he makes errors, he is not perfect, I would like to see Jamison Gibson-Park get another run. You talk about the Scotland game and the pressure that needs to come on them, I think Gibson Park can do a job on Ali Price.
“He is quick over five, over 10, he has that Wellington Hurricanes capacity to play and think quickly, which has always been their way.
“The threat he poses will allow Johnny Sexton a bit more room and a bit more freedom to play his game and manipulate opposition.”
‘Gibson-Park sets him free.’
Barnes believes that Murray’s slow delivery results in Sexton having to take the ball into contact more often than the Ireland captain would like.
This in turn, according to former fly-half, gives Ireland’s centres less opportunity to show their attacking prowess, as they either do not receive the ball or get the ball with the opposition defence already bearing down on them.
“When you play a nine and 10 and neither are a threat in the slightest, then it all comes down onto Sexton and he is a brave bloke and he ends up getting physically battered,” Barnes commented.
“Gibson-Park sets him free and with him free, there is a split second more for Henshaw to take the ball on the gain line.
“That is another key, if Henshaw is taking it a metre back then Ireland have to play this no-risk game, they will revert to it.
“If you get him over that gain line and Ringrose starts running little angles then there is a sniff of Ireland actually developing and improving for the first time in about two-and-a-half years. I think they have been very static for a long time.”
While Andy Farrell has mostly gone with Murray as his first-choice scrum-half since taking over as Ireland coach, Gibson-Park certainly kept the Italian defence on their toes with his fast delivery.