Warren Gatland’s coronation as head coach of the British and Irish Lions last week has sparked great deal of debate. Who will travel to New Zealand, and who will miss the cut?
One of the positions causing the most debate is out-half. Should Dan Biggar lead the line? What about Owen Farrell or George Ford? There is little talk about Jonathan Sexton, and Welsh journalist Stephen Jones doesn’t even think he should travel.
The outspoken pundit is not alone in his thoughts.
Really don’t want Gatland to be named Lions coach, give me Owen Farrell and Stuart Hogg at 10 and 15 than Halfpenny and Sexton
— Josh (@Josh_Hawley1) September 5, 2016
To be fair, it is a valid argument. The Leinster and Ireland fly-half struggled with form in the second half of last season, and Paddy Jackson made a case for a starting berth on the national team during June’s tour of South Africa.
However, there are few fly-halves in world rugby who can touch Sexton, when fully fit. The Dubliner earned a reputation as arguably the globe’s premier 10 at a stage last year.
Injury in the World Cup victory over France spelled the end of his tournament, and in truth it took him months to get back into the groove, only to be sidelined once again.
Joey Carberry and Paddy Jackson have excelled for Leinster and Ireland respectively in his absence. However, when Sexton is back fully fit, there is only one show in town.
The All-Blacks are fast closing in on a record run of consecutive test victories, and appear more dangerous than ever. Beauden Barrett is setting the southern hemisphere alight, and the tourists will need an answer.
Over the past number of years, Sexton has silenced many young pretenders wearing his opposite number. Think Handré Pollard 2014. Think Owen Farrell 2015. Sexton is the one fly-half at Gatland’s disposal capable of bossing Barrett.
Sexton is a bully when it comes to opponents. He does not back down to reputation. Screaming into Ronan O’Gara’s ear during the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final showed a bullishness; he means business.
If selected, he would attack Barrett, get in an early hit, and put the Lions on the front foot. He could get inside the Kiwi’s head.
To add to his case, Sexton is a ‘Gatland player’. In the victorious tour of 2013, the Dubliner pulled the strings. He can execute the system.
Sexton has been there, done that on the biggest stage. Three Heineken Cups, two Six Nations, and countless impressive victories when the Irish were written off, when he was facing a supposedly superior fly-half.
Sure, there is the elephant in the room that is the 2013 loss to the All-Blacks. However, with front foot possession, which the Lions pack will be capable of offering, Sexton can control the game, better than Ford, Farrell, Biggar, or any other bolter than may emerge.
To neatly wrap up the ramblings that you have been reading for the past few minutes, the message is that if fit, Jonathan Sexton must go to New Zealand next June. The condition only extends to if he has a run of fitness. When it comes to a player of his class, form will look after itself.