Rory Best says that Johnny Sexton has widened the gap between himself and his half-and-half rivals in the Irish team.
There are concerns that Ireland is currently relying more on the experienced playmaker than in preparations for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Current Ireland captain Sexton has had surgery for a cheekbone injury, but is still ready to side with Andy Farrell during the Six Nations.
Sexton, leader of the pack
The 37-year-old was at the top of his game last year, leading Ireland to second place in the Six Nations, a Series win in New Zealand against the All Blacks, and Autumn against Australia and France.
He was shortlisted for the World Rugby Player of the Year Award for his efforts and remains his country’s undisputed first choice for the No.
Farrell has tested depth in Ireland with the likes of Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Ross Byrne, Harry Byrne, Billy Burns, Ciaran Frawley and Jack Crowley deputizing for Sexton since 2020.
However, Best believes his former international teammate has widened the gap with his rivals and admits the lack of competition is a “concern”.
“I certainly don’t think we are any less dependent; Six or seven years ago we were probably less dependent on Johnny than we are now,” said the former Irish captain.
“I think there is a combination of things. Joey’s injuries haven’t helped since the last World Cup, Johnny has played some of the best rugby he’s ever played and we also have a lot of young players who haven’t had playing time since 10 minutes. big games
“There’s a lot of URC (United Rugby Championship) experience out there, and as we’ve seen, I think there’s a gap between the top and bottom teams in URC, unfortunately; he is huge.
“I don’t know if we’re any closer to finding a shelter for Johnny. On the contrary, Johnny has made the difference with his playing style and leadership style, which is always a concern.”
Ireland is launching its Six Nations campaign as the world’s top-ranked side, and Farrell’s men will be eager to build on last year’s Triple Crown success.
Still, Best believes there’s a reason to use the tournament to develop competition for the likes of Sexton and hard-headed prop Tadhg Furlong.
“It will be interesting to see if this Six Nations is about a Grand Slam or a championship and really brings home the momentum we’ve built over the past few years,” the 40-year-old said.
“Or is there a scenario like, ‘There are a few holes around Furlong, around Sexton, and we’re going to put them in the dugout to give us a safety blanket, but we have to try. push the next people over there’.
“This is a question that will be answered in the next few months, and one that Andy will know the answer to himself. But ultimately it’s a decision and a strategy that needs to be made.”
Ireland will face Wales in the opening round of the Six Nations on February 4, before hosting defending champions France at Aviva seven days later. They have away matches against Italy and Scotland before wrapping up their fight against England in Dublin.
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Rory Best first cites the Irish article on Planetrugby.com entitled “Johnny Sexton made the difference with the way he plays”.