Rugby

Johnny Sexton Had A Poor Game - And Yet He Still Made All The Difference

Johnny Sexton Had A Poor Game - And Yet He Still Made All The Difference

If you overheard some of the more religiously-inclined Welsh fans ahead of today's game in Dublin, toward the top in their running order of prayers would have concerned the performance of Ireland's most important player.

In a way, they got what they wanted.

Johnny Sexton turned in one of his poorest Irish performances in some time. He was peculiarly errant off the kicking tee, missing his first three kicks. He steadied the ship later in the half, before slicing a difficult conversion wide from the right-hand touchline in the second-half. From there, Sexton seemed to deliberately avoid taking goal kicks. With just over ten minutes to go, Ireland won a kickable penalty which carried with it the opportunity to push the margin to two scores.

Inexplicably, Sexton eschewed the dictates of logic and all previous evidence to run the ball. The attack came to nothing, and a knock to Conor Murray's seemed to offer a cruel collateral to a strange decision by Sexton. Suspicions that he was uncomfortable with his goalkicking were confirmed a few minutes later, as Conor Murray got the nod to nudge over a critical penalty.

Sexton made way soon after.

And yet Wales are going home without so much of a losing bonus point for comfort. Among the architects of a ten-point defeat of the Welsh?

Johnny Sexton.

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Ireland had some magnificent performances across the park - Chris Farrell was the man of the match but CJ Stander and Dan Leavy ran him close - but ultimately, without the sheer, non-negotiable genius of Sexton, dreams of a Grand Slam would once again be reserved for heads on pillows.

If good players can execute skills at high speed, the best players are those who can choose not to execute.

Just after striking the post with his opening penalty, Sexton set up Ireland's opening try: an immaculately judged and subtly delayed pass to Jacob Stockdale that whistled past Bundee Aki.

Timing beats speed.

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He was similarly outstanding for Ireland's third try. That is what Sexton did for the third Irish try, delaying a pass ever so slightly to allow Rob Kearney - not a man who has built a career on subtly unlocking defences - find space to offload to Keith Earls.

Sexton was probably not fully fit: he sat out some of yesterday's captain's run with a reported back problem, and was ultimately substituted with what Joe Schmidt has said is a dead glute.

It is Sexton's nature never to be entirely satisfied, and he will look back on today's performance with a level of regret bordering on loathing. But ultimately, even in the throes of poor form and the niggle of injury, Sexton's class couldn't help but propel Ireland to a win.

Welsh fans might tonight be ruminating on the old adage that God doles out his punishment by answering prayers.

 

 

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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