Rugby

The Underrated Sexton Moment Which Changed The Game Against England

The Underrated Sexton Moment Which Changed The Game Against England

With Stephen Jones squawking about Johnny Sexton's habit of falling down stopping him from greatness, Brian O'Driscoll offered a strong response on twitter:

'Potentially a great player'?! He gets hit because he has the liathróidí (balls in Irish) to take the ball to the line creating space.

The finest riposte came from Sexton himself, however. Ireland's out-half shifted the momentum of the match in the second-half. And he did it by staying on his feet. Ireland led by seven points after a rousing first-half, marred by the sneaking suspicion that Ireland's front-line players had not built a lead big enough to sustain the onslaught from England's monstrous bench, or the 'finishers', as Eddie Jones has so literally put it.

The second half began with England nudging their way back into contention, and with every turn of the screw came an Irish disciplinary wobble. Having given away two penalties in the entire first half, Ireland conceded three within as many minutes around the first-half: Jack McGrath bizarrely strayed offside to allow Owen Farrell double England's score, while Simon Zebo and CJ Stander were both pinged by Jerome Garces for collapsing a maul not long after.

There was a discernible shift in momentum, and it stirred the first murmurings of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot among the minority in the crowd. Irish fans, prodded into action, responded with a blood-curdling Fields of Athenry. But the real check on English momentum came in the middle of the pitch, with Sexton its chief executor.

England nudged their way up the field, tossed the ball out to James Haskell...and he was swallowed up. First by Sexton, and then by Robbie Henshaw in a tackle that did more than choke James Haskell. It strangled England, and it shifted the game back in Ireland's favour. Sexton was not as triumphant as he was with the same move on Owen Farrell in the first half, but if you look at the video closely, you'll see a very satisfied grin on Sexton's face as he lies on the ground by Henshaw.

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A minute later, Jared Payne made the break of the game and six minutes later, England conceded the next penalty:  Sexton picking himself up from a late hit by Tom Wood before splitting the posts. From there, Ireland did not look back.

Upon such moments do great games turn. This came after a series of late, shuddering hits on Sexton by Itoje and Haskell that were tardy, at best. Yet Sexton endured before excelling, and those who bemoan his head-up tackle technique will see in the above a regard for the result, rather than himself.

Jones argues that the targeting of Sexton in New Zealand will be merciless, and he may well be right, but this summer Gatland will have an out-half who will not shirk the sound and fury before him. He'll hear it out, but boy, will he roar back.

See Also: The Strangely Vocal Reaction To Eddie O'Sullivan's Red Pants On 'Against The Head'

See Also: Rating Every Irish Performance Across The 2017 Six Nations

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

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