On Sunday the 2nd of February Ireland kick off their Six Nations campaign against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. Jonny Sexton is Ireland’s nailed on starting fly half but what if the unthinkable happened and Monsieur Jonny got injured? Who would be the Racing Metro man’s potential replacement?
1. Paddy Jackson
The young Ulster man, with five caps, has gone from strength-to-strength this season as Mark Anscombe has provided the Belfast baby-faced native with more responsibility, taking over the kicking duties from Ruan Pienaar. His game management has improved along with his goal kicking and Jackson has shown remarkable mental strength to bounce back from his Heineken Cup Final horror show and Murrayfield misery to put in some fine displays for Ulster this campaign. His excellent performance against Samoa in the first Test of the Autumn Internationals was one of very few highlights of an incredibly dour game.
2. Ian Madigan
A player who loves to take the ball to the gainline, has a rapier like pass and a keen eye for a gap, was in possession of the Ireland number 10 shirt in the summer when Sexton was away orchestrating a Lion’s series victory. With Sexton moving to pastures new this was the season for Madigan to establish himself as Lenister’s first choice fly half. However no one expected, least of all Madigan himself, Jimmy Gopperth to perform so well and consistently resulting in the Dubliner struggling for game time. His virtuoso display against the Saints at Franklins Gardens shows how good Madigan can be but he must displace Gopperth first before he can put his hand up for Ireland and perhaps a new barber would not go a miss either.
3. JJ Hanrahan
The Kerry man was nominated for Junior World Player of the Year in 2012 and has already written himself into Munster Rugby folklore with a sidestep that duped the whole of the Stade Aimé Giral, scoring the winning try against Perpignan. His development is rapidly progressing with assured displays in the Pro 12 but as to be expected of one so young, he is still prone to foolish mistakes such as the chip that led to Edinburgh’s winning score. The 2014 Six Nations might just be too soon for Hanrahan but a seat on the plane to Argentina this summer is a real possibility.
4. Ian Keatley
The Dubliner’s performances this season, although not eye-catching, have been solid and have taken Munster to the summit of the Pro 12 and to the top of their Heineken Pool. However his chances of securing an Ireland call up are low as it looks like Hanrahan has displaced him at Munster. At least he does not do his ridiculous kicking routine anymore.
5. Gareth Steenson
Any observer of the Aviva Premiership will have realised that Gareth Steenson is, in fact, Irish. The Dungannon man has been a vital cog for the recent success of the Exeter Chiefs . Good game management and a high goal-kicking percentage led Stuart Barnes last year to declare that Steenson was the best fly half in the Premiership, ahead of the likes of current England number 10, Owen Farrell and All Black magician Nick Evans.
6. Ian Humphreys
Apart from being David’s brother the London Irish man is an excellent fly half. He is arguably Ireland’s most inventive No.10 and is accurate with the boot. His major drawback however, is that Casper the Ghost is more effective in the tackle and a fly half who cannot or will not tackle is no use to any team.
It’s clear there are other flyhalfs that could fill Jonny Sexton’s boots if the worst came to pass but the safest bet is to take out the rosary beads in order to prevent that from happening.
Pundit Arena, Matt Cassidy.
Images: Ian Keatley By Longbomb / Wilson Wong (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Jonny Sexton By PierreSelim (Self-photographed) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.