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'Ireland have no threat with Sexton and Murray' | Stuart Barnes

Thom Malone
Thom Malone

22:09 3 Mar 2021


Stuart Barnes joined Wednesday Night Rugby on Off the Ball where he suggested Ireland had to play a different half-back partnership to Sexton and Murray.

Nine and ten are the key to Ireland playing a more expansive game, and it cannot be achieved with a pair of veterans, according to the Bath legend.

"In 2017 Conor Murray was playing as well as any scrum-half in the world," began Barnes.

"He has that kicking game, but he had a fast game, he had a lethal try-scoring ability from five metres and he could break.

"He has had injuries, he is a little bit older, I just think when you play Murray and Sexton, there is no threat at all and it forces Ireland to retreat in the way they play.

"While he makes errors, he is not perfect, I would like to see Jamieson Gibson Park get another run.

"You talk about the Scotland game and the pressure that needs to come on them, I think Gibson Park can do a job on Ali Price.

"He is quick over five, over ten, he has that Wellington Hurricanes capacity to play and think quickly, which has always been their way.

"The threat he poses will allow Johnny Sexton a bit more room and a bit more freedom to play his game and manipulate opposition."

Stuart Barnes: 'Neither are a threat'

Stuart Barnes thinks Andy Farrell should stick with the Leinster half-back pairing to face the Scots.

"When you play a nine and ten and neither are a threat in the slightest, then it all comes down onto Sexton and he is a brave bloke and he ends up getting physically battered," he reasoned.

"Gibson Park sets him free and with him free, there is a split second more for Henshaw to take the ball on the gain line.

"That is another key, if Henshaw is taking it a metre back then Ireland have to play this no-risk game, they will revert to it.

"If you get him over that gain line and Ringrose starts running little angles then there is a sniff of Ireland actually developing and improving for the first time in about two-and-a-half years.

"I think they have been very static for a long time."

A balance to be struck

To clarify when Barnes suggested threat he meant with ball in hand, running at pace, something he thinks neither Sexton nor Murray still has.

"Running threat, neither have the pace now. Johnny has lovely hands but you can let him go because he can't really get beyond that gain line," said the former England ten.

"I think he needs to play the game a metre back, I mean a metre back from the best fly-halves [like Finn Russell].

"I don't think Johnny can stand there [right up on or past the gain line] and manipulate the game anymore and I don't think Ireland can afford for him to do that because you are in the traffic and you take a hammering.

"I think he has to be just a little bit back and that means Henshaw's burden of work has to be exceptional to get them over that gain line."

Barnes essentially wants to see a balance in the half-back pairing.

"A nine and a ten who both want to run will leave you short of game-shaping ability. A nine and a ten who are passers and kickers and don't run at all takes a threat out of the game.

"That in time gets the whole way through your midfield and will make its way out to Ringrose, so you have to have someone at nine or ten who is capable [of running and keeping the defence honest]."

Full chat with Stuart Barnes and Keith Wood here.

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