As the Six Nations squad is announced, Liam Toland believes Ireland are heading into a period of uncertainty at ten if a replacement for Johnny Sexton is not blooded soon.
As the Ireland Six Nations squad was announced, Toland and journalist Ruaidhri O’Connor talked through the options available to Andy Farrell – and what options he has for medium-term planning.
With the likelihood that Sexton will not finish all of Ireland’s five matches starting next month, Toland told of the delicate balance that Farrell needs to strike.
“I think we should go further than the 2021 Six Nations, I think we should look at the Rugby World Cup,” Toland said of Ireland’s forward planning in the role.
“There are about 26 internationals between now and the kick off of the World Cup. Whoever is going to be the stating outhalf to bring us through the pool stages, if it is not Johnny Sexton, it has to be somebody who has to have – arguably – 50+ caps.
“He has to have that level of experience, or you’re talking about jumping into that younger pool where you are maybe looking at single-figure caps. That is my bigger concern.”
Toland believes Ireland could find themselves looking at another disappointing World Cup showing in 2023 without adequate planning.
“We know all the background to the Six Nations and the financial importance of the competition and that sort of stuff, but I would have grave worries that when we arrive at the World Cup we are going to do so with an outhalf that might have eight or nine caps.
“That said, Ross Byrne seems to be talked about as a club player; I think he is a super player. I think he deserves infinitely more respect than that. You saw in his cameo performance at the weekend.
“No-one in Ireland is touching Johnny Sexton – Johnny Sexton is World Player of the Year, he is a test Lion. So we don’t have a World Player of the Year, test Lion alternative.
“So we have got to go and find it, and that it why you think of someone like Craig Casey; there is a richness of scrum-halves to afford them the opportunity to bounce a Craig Casey into the system.”
“There needs to be a boldness about what you do with Harry Byrne and all the other players around the country there.
“The question for me is the Rugby World Cup – there is a serious doubt about who is going to be our driving force at ten, by the time we get there.
“There is going to be a lack of potential experience, where you need a minimum of 40+ caps.
“The other one then is when is a player good enough to take over; it is when the player is showing that he is better than the current guy.
"I think there are players below Billy Burns and Ross Byrne that are going to be better than those two guys.
"They should be promoted as a result of it.”
All is not lost though, there are options to replace Sexton available between Leinster and Munster in particular.
“We know that Munster are going to have to start shifting to Ben Healy; by all accounts Harry Byrne is worth taking a look at. I think we need to get him fast-tracked into international games.
“Clearly, if Joey Carbery comes back and gets a run of games, he is a class player.
“That would solve a lot of problems.”
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