MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton has a point to prove in a must-win second test against Australia on Saturday after being restored to the starting side for the clash in Melbourne.
Sexton found himself riding the replacements bench in the 18-9 first test loss in Brisbane, where coach Joe Schmidt gave Joey Carbery the start as he builds depth ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The addition of 32-year-old British and Irish Lions flyhalf Sexton for the clash at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (kickoff 0805 GMT), however, should provide some calm assurance for an Ireland side rattled last week in Brisbane.
“He’s a world class player and he’s probably been the rock of their side for a number of years,” Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley told Australian Associated Press this week.
“He’s been the man who has led them to so much success over the last 15 to 18 months.
“We saw how threatening Sexton was when he came on, he made a big impact taking the ball to the line a bit more and backing his running.
“He found a few holes through the middle of our game.”
The resumption of Sexton’s scrumhalves partnership with Conor Murray should also create a more varied attacking game, with the flyhalf’s running and decision making complementing Murray’s tactical kicking.
Penetrating the tough Wallabies defence is not the only issue Schmidt’s team had to work on this week after the breakdown was dominated by loose forward David Pocock at Lang Park.
The return of the 30-year-old from a year-long sabbatical was seen as a key factor in a Wallabies win that ended Ireland’s 12-match unbeaten run and continued their winless streak on Australian soil since 1979.
Pocock not only scored the pivotal try in the 72nd minute but his ability to turn over, or slow, the opposition ball clearly hampered Ireland’s inability to turn their normally clinical phase play into more points.
The flanker could be in for a more direct challenge on Saturday with Ireland’s ball carriers expected to force him to make the tackle rather than be the ‘second man in’.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has named an unchanged side in successive weeks for the first time in his 46-test tenure and said he expected them to carry the momentum from Brisbane into the second match.
“I think first game of the season, we had a rush, we crammed a lot last week, so I’d just like to give those guys another opportunity to get out there with the understanding of being together for another three or for days and try and do better,” Cheika said.
“I think we need to raise the bar on ourselves, on our own standards this week to give ourselves a chance of winning the game.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford