Johnny’s exit could be the tip of the ice­berg

Bray People - - SPORT - SIMON NOR­TON

SO THE best out half on th­ese shores has de­cided to chase the (metaphor­i­cal) franc and sam­ple Paris in the spring­time next sea­son.

The news of Johnny Sex­ton's im­mi­nent de­par­ture to Rac­ing Metro on a two-year con­tract came not long af­ter the Province's egres­sion from the Heineken Cup, rub­bing salt into the al­ready sting­ing Le­in­ster wounds.

Some will brand him a mer­ce­nary, only af­ter the pay cheque but to be hon­est I really don't blame him.

A rugby player's ca­reer is a short one and thus has to be as fruitious as pos­si­ble and the IRFU cer­tainly weren't mak­ing as at­trac­tive an of­fer as the deep pock­eted Parisians.

My real worry is that this is just the tip of the ice­berg and that the Ir­ish prov­inces will go the way of the Welsh (and sub­se­quently the dodo) as the best and bright­est leave their home­land for the lure of the sugar daddy French clubs.

In pre­vi­ous sea­sons there was al­ways a French club (or the Mi­ami Dol­phins if your name is Ro­nan O'Gara), mag­i­cally in­ter­ested in a player just around con­tract re­newal time to im­prove their ne­go­ti­a­tion stance. I per­son­ally thought the Sex­ton ru­mour was just that but un­for­tu­nately the IRFU will in­creas­ingly find them­selves in po­si­tions where they can't even get close to the Gal­lic jug­ger­nauts, ef­fec­tively rul­ing out their trump card of play­ers get­ting to stay close to home as a bonus with hun­dreds of thou­sands fill­ing the gap be­tween of­fers.

With the start of the 6 Na­tions next week­end De­clan Kid­ney and the pow­ers that be in the IRFU will have to put th­ese off field ac­tiv­i­ties be­hind them and fo­cus on what will be a rather tricky trip to the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium.

You can't win a Grand Slam in the first game but you can cer­tainly lose one and the Welsh will be rar­ing to go fol­low­ing their poor show­ing in the au­tumn. The re­turn of Adam Jones will give them fur­ther con­fi­dence as they really missed the tight head dur­ing his in­jury lay off and, lest we for­get not 12 months ago this Welsh side won the grand slam so should not be taken lightly.

Ac­cord­ing to the me­dia, the Ir­ish camp are cur­rently a rather happy one (aren't they al­ways in the lead up to a com­pe­ti­tion) and the build up is go­ing well in Car­ton House.

In a dose of re­al­ity De­clan Kid­ney won't have learnt a huge amount from last Fri­day night's Ir­ish Wolfhounds game against the Sax­ons apart from what he al­ready knew, that we're in dire straights when it comes to a re­place­ment tight head prop. Michael Bent, brought over from New Zealand es­pe­cially for his scrum­mag­ing prow­ess, was quite sim­ply de­stroyed by Glouces­ter's Nick Wood.

The rate of knots that the Ir­ish scrum marched back­wards was fright­en­ing at times and all the pres­sure was coming onto Ire­land's tight head side.

De­clan Fitz­patrick did a far bet­ter job on his in­tro­duc­tion on the 69th minute but he surely can't be deemed fit enough for test rugby hav­ing only played around 100 min­utes of rugby so far this sea­son. With Stephen Archer out in­jured (and hardly the prop­ping Mes­siah) Kid­ney will be say­ing a novena to St Christo­pher for the safe pas­sage of Mike Ross through out the 6 Na­tions.

In­ter­est­ingly on the other side of the scrum at loose head things look em­i­nently bet­ter with Cian Healy's un­der­stud­ies Dave Kil­coyne and Tom Court fight­ing it out for a bench spot with both in fine form.

This seems to be the case in quite a few ar­eas of the squad at the moment with com­pe­ti­tion for places stronger than ever be­fore.

So strong squad aside, what really are our chances this year?

Let's face it; Scot­land and Italy haven't chal­lenged for any­thing other than the wooden spoon for the last num­ber of sea­sons and their form in no way sug­gests a change from the norm. Wales (as I men­tioned above) can be dan­ger­ous on their day and will want to atone for the au­tumn, par­tic­u­larly now that Rob How­ley is in fully as in­terim coach rather than the job share ar­range­ment they had pre­vi­ously.

That said I can't really see them pos­ing a se­ri­ous threat to the main con­tenders.

Fol­low­ing their record win against the All Blacks, Eng­land have been in­stalled as the favourites for this year’s cham­pi­onship. It re­mains to be seen whether that per­for­mance was a flash in the pan against an off form (and un­der the weather if you be­lieve the ru­mours) New Zealand. How­ever, they are start­ing to look more like the pow­er­house they once were and cer­tain key play­ers are show­ing great form lately but I don't think they'll end up on top of the heap.

My own favourites have to be France fol­low­ing a fan­tas­tic show­ing in the au­tumn and some strong player per­for­mances in the Heineken Cup.

They'll be miss­ing their try mer­chant Vin­cent Clerc for the ini­tial matches and the young full back Brice Du­lan is also on the in­jury list but to be able to para­chute in a player of the cal­i­bre of Maxime Medard as re­place­ment show's scary strength in depth.

With the ' big two' coming to the Aviva this year Ire­land have a bet­ter chance at success.

We'll have to en­sure that there's less of the fail­ure to con­vert pos­ses­sion into points that marred the match against the Spring­boks while cre­at­ing a lot more of the flu­id­ity of at­tack that crushed Ar­gentina.

If we man­age this we can cer­tainly com­pete with France and Eng­land although I've a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion (un­for­tu­nately) that a mid ta­ble fin­ish is on the cards. What­ever hap­pens, we'll need the de­part­ing Johnny on top form.

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