Six Nations: Eddie O’Sullivan expects Ireland to rest Johnny Sexton for Italy Test
Former Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan sees the fixture against Italy this weekend as the best chance current head coach Andy Farrell has to rest veteran Johnny Sexton.
The 37-year-old has struggled with fitness this year with a cheekbone issue that threatened to prevent him from playing at the start of the Six Nations before a dead leg scare after the opening round whilst also being removed from the field of play against France in round two.
A good opportunity
Given how instrumental Sexton is to Ireland and the team’s goal of the Grand Slam, O’Sullivan believes the team can still beat Italy without their skipper.
“Certainly, there is an opportunity there to rest Sexton,” O’Sullivan told BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound Extra Time.
“Let’s face it, Ireland are number one in the world and Italy are number 12 in the world. We should be able to beat Italy in Rome on form alone.”
O’Sullivan believes the addition of Joey Carbery to the squad indicates that Farrell will likely rest Sexton so the veteran will be ready for a big clash against an impressive Scotland at Murrayfield.
“The giveaway for me is that Joey Carbery has been brought into camp,” he added.
“He is going to pick two of them [Sexton, Carbery, Byrne and Crowley], having a third guy as a back-up, and he is going to rest one of them.
“My guess is he is probably looking at resting Sexton which will have him back fit and well for the trip to Edinburgh and, all being well, a potential Grand Slam game against England.”
Benefit for Ross Byrne
O’Sullivan added that giving Leinster fly-half Byrne more experience in the starting jersey will benefit Ireland going forward.
The former coach sees big value in Ross Byrne starting a Six Nations match after impressing when replacing Sexton, so much so the Leinsterman received plaudits from Ireland legend and La Rochelle coach Ronan O’Gara.
“The upside of that is that he gets to see Ross Byrne starting under pressure in a Six Nations game,” he said.
“The easy solution would be to put Sexton out there again; he’s probably fit enough and he has got over his injury.
“I think in the context of where they are, it is a real opportunity.”
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