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'What do you want him to do? Start hugging Ross Byrne?' | Quinlan backs Sexton reaction but calls for change of captain

Johnny Sexton's future as Irish rugby captain has been questioned across the board in the wake of...

'What do you want him to do? S...

'What do you want him to do? Start hugging Ross Byrne?' | Quinlan backs Sexton reaction but calls for change of captain

Johnny Sexton's future as Irish rugby captain has been questioned across the board in the wake of Ireland's Six Nations defeat to France on Saturday, and Alan Quinlan believes the time is right to consider the other leaders in the group.

However, Quinny says his opinion has nothing to do with the Leinster out-half's reaction to being substituted in the 69th minute.

The Irish captain was visibly frustrated at the decision to replace him with Ross Byrne for the final 12 minutes, the camera lingering on him as he walked off the pitch.

That reaction has led to questions over his leadership, but former Irish international Alan Quinlan says he would have no issue with a captain of his reacting like that.

"I thought the reaction to Johnny Sexton being taken off and everyone saying he showed bad leadership was absolute rubbish."

"What do you want him to do? Start hugging Ross Byrne? I don't think he deserved to be taken off, so for me he's entitled to that reaction," he told Ger and Eoin on OTB AM.

"I don't think he has an issue with Ross Byrne. He handed him the ball and walked off. I've been critical of Johnny's reactions before, but I think that shows an incredible desire. It's hard to keep your emotions in check. He shouldn't have been taken off. It's as simple as that.

"It's not like two kids in a playground. They're adults. Ross Byrne is already on the half way line when Sexton is on the touchline.

"I don't think he needs to be coming off smiling and high-fiving people," he added.

Change of Captain

However, while Quinlan gave Sexton his backing for his reaction to the change on Saturday night, he says the time may be right to change up the leadership role in the team going forward.

The Leinster outhalf will be 38-years-old if he's still involved by the time the World Cup rolls around in 2023, potentially providing Andy Farrell with a similar issue faced by Joe Schmidt 12 months ago, when Rory Best was beginning to lose his form as retirement approached.

Quinny says the Autumn Nations Cup can give Farrell the opportunity to give some new leaders a chance to step up, allowing him time to ponder the potential captaincy change before the Six Nations.

"I think there's a valid argument to say that now is the time to find a new captain that's going to take us to 2023 World Cup, we've probably made mistakes before of not introducing players and throwing enough players in early enough for the World Cup.

"We're three years out from the WC so maybe it's time to make that change. I don't think it's a major issue that we have to change the captaincy. But I said it  even before the start of the 6N that James Ryan is the obvious candidate,  he's a guaranteed started every time but I don't have an issue with Johnny Sexton. He's an incredible player, an incredible leader, he can be a little petulant at times, a little sparky.

"In the next few weeks there will be changes in the team, so you may see some changes to the team, so you might see a couple of different captains for the different selections..."

Costly Mistakes

Quinlan says his biggest long-term concern over Saturday's defeat stems from the mental strength of the squad.

Ireland dominated the first half, but still found themselves behind by four points heading into the sheds at the break.

Jacob Stockdale's error leading to the second French try seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Irish players following a period of control, while their lack of composure in the French 22 saw them cough up a number of opportunities at the lineout.

"It frustrates me so much to see that because it's down to the players on the field switching off, not getting the timing right.

"That one where Stander forced the penalty to kick into the corner; France are on the backfoot, they're a little bit standoffish, they're getting nervy. Ireland are coming back and throwing everything at it. And you just make a terrible mistake like that and it can have an awful psychological blow," he said.

"There are issues right across the board. You can take lots of positives from the first half, but the composure under pressure was a real issue, 16 turnovers conceded. The stats are crazy if you look at this match. 60 percent possession, and 64 percent territory. France got easy tries. You'll always get a bit of brilliance, but you could almost go through every try and say it was preventable.

Quinlan also said Andy Farrell should have made a tactical switch at half time, by bringing Chris Farrell on for Jacob Stockdale, moving Andrew Conway back to full back.

Stockdale's error led to the second French try, and Quinny says it was the turning point of the game:

"Jacob Stockdale in the first half, that was a massive psychological blow. He knocked one on just a couple of minutes before (before the second French try), then hesitates to go down on it and they get a penalty try. Ireland concede seven points and have Caelan Doris in the bin for 10 minutes. There are a lot of moments in that game that they'll be concerned about.

He did add though, that maintaining concentration in the fast-paced environment of a test match can be one of the most difficult parts of the game to master.

"It's difficult even with the most experienced teams, they're the things you talk about in games. I remember that from my own career that being in dressing rooms with lots of good leaders and successful winners and guys who had a real desire.

"It's about how you react when the opposition are putting pressure on you. That's what makes brilliant teams and that's stuff this group have to learn. There a lot of change happening within the team and a number of newer players coming into the group. That would probably continue through the Nations Cup.

"I know we keep going back to it but you just sense Ireland had that ruthlessness in 18, didn't panic under pressure when the opposition were rattling them under pressure. That takes time and they're rebuilding again."

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Read more about

2020 Six Nations Alan Quinlan Andy Farrell Autumn Nations Cup Chris Farrell Irish Rugby Jacob Stockdale Johnny Sexton Otb Am Ross Byrne Six Nations Champions