Get Jonny: Are the Lions hiding a Sexton injury? - Green and Gold Rugby
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Get Jonny: Are the Lions hiding a Sexton injury?

Get Jonny: Are the Lions hiding a Sexton injury?

After reading an intriguing email sent in by one of our readers I decided to take a closer look at the play of Jonathan Sexton these past few weeks. What I found was interesting. I believe that the Lions are intentionally shielding or hiding Sexton. I also believe that Sexton is the biggest defensive liability in the Lions squad right now and could even potentially be carrying an injury of some kind.

New South Wales Hospitality

The eclipse

The eclipse

More than in any other game so far, Jonathan Sexton was given a bit of ‘special attention’ during the Lions match with the Waratahs. After being smashed by Will Skelton early on in the match Sexton was nearly bent in half during a ruck around the half hour mark. After the Skelton hit he was very slow to get up and required attention from the medical staff through the duration of the conversion kick which followed the first Tom Carter try.

Following that particularly nasty ruck Mr. Sexton could clearly be seen hobbling back towards the midfield. Initially I thought that it may have just been a stinger. But, if you watch the next clip he pretty clearly pulls up suddenly after kicking the restart – a couple of minutes later. It could have been an especially bad stinger but the way Jonny was suddenly bent forward in that ruck could have caused some sort of back or hamstring damage. Below is a video including all of the moments I have just referred to.

On a Short Leash

Whether or not Jonny Sexton is carrying some kind of injury is very much up for debate. While something was clearly amiss at points during the Waratahs match he seemed to be running fine and even hit a couple of rucks on Saturday. What became obvious during the first test though was that Sexton has not defended particularly well on tour so far, and that Gatland is clearly protecting him to some degree.

While Mr. Sexton still defends in the front line off of set pieces he rarely brought the man to ground without the help of one of the loose forwards or Jonathan Davies. In general play though he quickly disappears to the fringes of the defense, tending to stay very far away from the ball. When he is not hovering near the touch line he is often one of the two players behind the line waiting for kicks. None of this should be very surprising to anyone though. Sexton is head-and-shoulders the best flyhalf in the Lions squad and this was only cemented after Owen Farrell’s starts early in the tour. It is in the best interest of the Lions to protect him.

Head down, feet planted.

Head down, feet planted.

But by pushing Sexton towards the fringes of the defense or to behind the line the Lions have created a very clear vulnerability. This weakness was easily exploited by Israel Folau during the run in for his second try. By forcing one of the weaker tacklers in the squad towards the fringes the Lions have actually put him directly in the line of fire.

As Scott Allen has already covered, the most easily exploitable spaces in the Lions defensive pattern are behind and around the line. Israel Folau and Nick Cummins/Joe Tomane should be salivating at the opportunity to run at a man, in space, who they outweigh by 10kgs+ and who has a tendency to plant his feet.

To top all of this off Sexton simply hasn’t looked himself on attack thus far. Those who watch Sexton play for Ireland and Leinster have probably noticed this. I haven’t seen him hit what I would consider to be his top speed at any point so far. While not the fastest 10 in the world, his pace has looked very ordinary so far this tour. He also generally loves to take on the line (especially for Leinster) and uses a short passing game and quick stepping to squirt through gaps. He has no problem taking a few shoulders when he does this. I’ve yet to see him play the way he does in Ireland. So far it looks like he has been on a pretty tight leash under Gatland not just on defense, but in attack as well.

Armchair Psychoanalysis

get jonny squareIncluded in the message from our supporter was a very interesting point about the second Folau try – Sexton had little reaction to being beaten so easily and was not consoled by a single Lions player following the incident. In the modern era of the ubiquitous bum tap – that’s odd. It’s clear that the Lions are intentionally placing him in that position to keep him out of harm’s way as best they can, but even in that case the miss was still unacceptable by all means.

So why would Sexton and the rest of the Lions players react that way to him missing such a crucial tackle so badly? Was it really not such a big surprise because of what he’s carrying? Are they a little peeved that so much is being risked on an injured player?

In case anyone forgot what the second Folau try looked like, here you go.

Remember that Gatland has little choice at 10, with Farrell being patchy and no other real alternative this side of Toulon. Keeping a crocked Jonny on the field is a risk he’d surely be willing to take.

What needs to be done by the Wallabies now is fairly obvious  – get Jonny.

  • TerribleTrowel

    although to be fair, smashing the 10 should always be very high on the priority list anyway

  • Popcorn.gif

    I just come to the comments to read the hilarious whinging of the Lions fans.

    This post oughta produce some gold…

    • Pasty Pom

      Come off it you boys arent to shabby in the whinging stakes. You just do it with more panache than us, somehow make it look like you are the whingee rather than whinger.

  • JSRF10

    He has been carrying a hamstring strain all tour, he was touch and go at one stage to make the first test. He has had trouble throughout his career so it doesn’t surprise me that they’ve flared up again

  • Pedro

    Didn’t Farrell stay on the bench against the Wallabies? I suppose the game was always in the balance though.

  • Who?

    Interesting situation. Gatland’s only got one real 10 to pick, and Deans chooses not to pick a real 10…

    • Mart

      Great call

      • Brando

        Sad but true.

  • Who Needs Melon

    I’ll bow to those that say it is a hammy but it looks very much like a minor ankle injury to me. That sort of hobbling looks very familiar to me.

  • Logorrhea

    The Lions could well be protecting Johnny as he could well be injured, but to suggesting Sexton is a weak defender is pretty bizarre statement. Hes one of the most physical out-halves in the game at the moment.

    Interesting read though, thanks.

  • woodenfingers

    Utter tosh from start to finish. Talk about whining. This is a sort of ‘wishful whinge’. Keep it up.

  • DrHelmut

    You’ve made a bum call here, and your analysis is flawed

    Sexton may well be carrying an injury but that’s not why he’s not defending at 10. The reason for that is Andy Farrell’s defensive system that the Lions play.

    Once the first phase or two are out the way and the game goes into phase play the Lions 10 drops to backfield to act as a second full back. The rush defense that the Lions utilise aims to reduce time and space and force the opposition to kick the ball, when they do that the Lions have their 2 best kickers to field the ball and to respond in order to try and win the territorial battle.

    In most defensive systems the wingers do this job but Farrell wants as many bodies in the defensive line as possible so with the Lions 11 and 14 are both flat and used to rush out of the line to try and force the centres back inside towards the back row.

    If you watch any of the games on tour (or any England game from the last 12 months) you’ll see that this is standard practice – Farrell and Hogg have been doing exactly the same when they have played.

    • USARugger

      1) I know the system they are using. I was in Scott Allen’s living room when we went over the Honkers footage and came to the conclusion they were using the English defense.

      2) If you think the 10 exclusively drops back you don’t know the system as well as you think you do. The 9 and blindside winger are just as likely to drop back and sit across from the 15 (which is why Mike Brown plays wing for England).

      3) Sexton is spending just as much time sitting in the furthest channel from the ball as he is in the backfield. That was one of the main points of the article. This is not part of England’s defensive system. When you watch Farrell play he either drops back within 2-3 phases or sits in his respective defensive channel. Sexton is deliberately pushing out towards the wing and there were even a few instances where he told Cuthbert to go and cover the back while he sat in the last channel.

      • DrHelmut

        1) Good

        2) I don’t think the 10 exclusively drops back but he is the first choice to do so. If he’s out of the game for any reason then the blind side wing will drop.

        The 9 should never drop though, his defensive responsibility is to sweep behind the rushing backline defense to cover the chip or grubber. It’s an area that Aus exploited beautifully against England – they tied the 9 into the ruck, held him there and then Beale chipped into the wide open spaces he was supposed to be covering.

        It’s a tactic I’m expecting to see later in this series, Philips loves to get involved around the fringes and this takes him away from his sweeping role.

        3) I’d like to see some more footage of Sexton sitting on the wing.

        The example of Folau’s try shows him in the fullback position rather than the wing – if you watch from the very start of the footage you can see that Halfpenny has been marking the right wing in backfield and Sexton the left.

        • USARugger

          The 9 drops and acts as the 2nd fullback when the Lions/Red Roses are within ~25-30m of their own line lots of the time.

          Agree Phillips has been getting caught out, he’s been doing it since the Honkers match.

          Don’t have time right now to compile another video but if you go on Youtube a couple of guys are hosting the match. Just keep an eye on Jonny as the defensive pattern spreads.

          The point of the Folau footage was to emphasize how easily Sexton can get beaten in space right now. Whether he’s on the wing or at fullback he’ll likely have some green space on either side of him. Whatever is going on he doesn’t seem himself and the weaknesses of the Lions pattern already lie along the fringes so the Wallabies should be emphasizing getting the ball out to the big wingers running in those wider channels at Sexton.

  • Dan

    “Sexton is head-and-shoulders the best flyhalf in the Lions squad and
    this was only cemented after Owen Farrell’s starts early in the tour.”

    Speaking as an English rugby supporter, this is just wriong. Farrell’s not very good and Sexton was always No1. In the absense of a better 10, we’re actually missing a back-up – Farrell is really a third-choice.

    That said, he’s played better than I expected, but our (England’s) future is probably more Freddie Burns/George Ford.

    • USARugger

      So Sexton is 1st choice and Farrell is a realistic 3rd choice but I’m wrong for saying Sexton is better than Farrell?

      What?

      If your issue is with not acknowledging that Sexton was already the 1st choice…you need to reread that quote a few times.

      • pickarooney

        In fairness, you’ve written it in such a way that it requires a few re-reads to understand that you mean ‘this was further outlined’

        • USARugger

          Fair play. Should have said ‘further cemented’ or something along those lines.

          What I meant was that Sexton was already the first choice and Farrell’s poor performances only served to solidified this.

  • Maxt

    Have not been a massive folau fan in the past, but there are very very few players gifted with the combination of pace, power and instinct that folau has.

  • Peter BT

    Sorry guys but can’t agree with this. I did a bit of analysis on this last week.

    Sexton is one of the best defenders in the Lions squad. No two ways about it. He is generally an excellent tackler and is used as such by Leinster and Ireland, I am a Leinster and Irish fan and thus watch him every game he plays without fail, I am very confident in the knowledge that Sexton is a good defender albeit a very upright one (hence why backrow/centres join his tackle-it’s to slow the ball down.)

    The reason that Sexton is being held back behind the line is completely different. Neither Cuthbert or North are good kickers. You can notice that North/Cuthbert are back when the ball is deep in Aussie territory to run the Aussies kicks back. You can see that Sexton is back when the Aussies are further up the pitch in Lions territory to return the kicks with a kick of their own.

    Not sure what will happen with Bowe in the team but he is not considered a great kicker either.

    • Graeme

      Not defending in the front line. Deans would never put up with that!

British & Irish Lions
@MKorolishin

Rugby enthusiast from across the Pacific, you can catch me on the forums as USARugger.

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