In the wake of Ireland’s disappointing defeat to Wales midway through the recent Six Nations championship, much was written about Ireland’s over-reliance on Johnny Sexton as the side’s sole playmaker. When Sexton was on the field, the opinion pieces went, they were too reliant upon him; when he was off it, the side looked lost for ideas.
Is a problem shared really a problem halved? In rugby terms, it’s a divisive issue.
Should a coach pick a second playmaker at centre? Is it best to have a barrel-chested ball-carrier outside your fly-half, or another pair of gentle hands? A man o’ war, or a metronome? There are several schools of thought in answering these questions, and these were on full display during last weekend’s Six Nations fixtures.
When Jared Payne was withdrawn halfway through Ireland’s plucky 27-24 defeat of Australia back in November, the signs were worrying for all present in Dublin. Even setting aside the fact that Robbie Henshaw was absent after a Same Cane hit against the All Blacks, Payne in many ways had become Ireland’s defensive general, and to lose him came as a blow.