Ireland rugby player Johnny Sexton will be a big inclusion for the Irish in Melbourne.
Ireland rugby player Johnny Sexton will be a big inclusion for the Irish in Melbourne.

Cheika: ‘Get Johnny’ mission too risky

IRISH star Johnny Sexton is not only one the "toughest roosters out there", he is also a footballing "maestro" who can carve you up if your defence fails.

And that's why, according to Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, it would be a waste of time to send out some hitmen to 'get Johnny' in the second Test despite the danger of Sexton upon his recall to Ireland's starting team.

"If we start going out of the line trying to do that stuff, we will get picked off, so easily," Cheika said.

The welcome return of the three-Test series in June comes with an intriguing new layer of coaching chess, as teams respond to last week's game and change accordingly.

Or not change at all, as Cheika elected to do on Thursday by naming the same 23-man Wallabies squad in successive weeks for the first time in his four-year, 46-Test tenure.

Despite the availability of experienced men Ned Hanigan and Rory Arnold, Cheika stuck firm with new boys Caleb Timu and Pete Samu, and retained a six-two bench.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt went the other way, with eight changes to his first Test side. Most of them were first-choice Six Nations stars returning, like Sexton, Dan Leavy, Garry Ringrose, Tadgh Furlong and Cian Healy.

Sexton, the British and Irish Lions playmaker, is the biggest Irish weapon and having coached him in Dublin a decade ago, Cheika knows how dangerous the 32-year-old can be.

"He is the maestro. He is running the show, he is in charge and directing traffic all the time. He is a great competitor and he is a great defensive player. Everyone talks about his attack, he is a great defensive player as well," Cheika said.

"He has a great kicking game too. So we have got to be aware. We can't look at him in particular, because if you start looking at him you will miss out on someone else."

Sexton has written about how he was taken aback when Cheika's Waratahs smashed him repeatedly behind play in a Lions fixture in 2013.

A laughing Cheika said he'd read the excerpts but there would be no specific targeting of Sexton in the second Test.

"Good defence is about being connected. When you do have the opportunity to go with linespeed, you all go together. Because he is smart enough to pick you off otherwise. And he is one of the toughest roosters out there. So you're not going to knock him about," Cheika said.

 

Michael Cheika (C) and his Wallabies won’t waste time targeting Johnny Sexton.
Michael Cheika (C) and his Wallabies won’t waste time targeting Johnny Sexton.

 

"I don't think there is any focus from me in regards to that. It's a nice storyline, though."

Cheika said he wanted to give the first Test team another opportunity to take on Ireland and believed they'd have plenty of improvement left after a short preparation last week.

With Ireland stinging from defeat, Cheika said his Wallabies would need to left their game if they hoped to wrap up the series with a second win.

"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," he said.

"I've been a little bit surprised actually, because I've seen a couple of their coaches talking about they'll see where the ticker is or they'll get up for it now because of that. I thought they were pretty good last week.

"The physicality they brought to the game and the intensity they brought to the game was pretty immense. You can't have a physical game without two teams bringing it. I was a little bit surprised that they've been saying the bear was poked, because I thought they gave it to us as much as we got stuck in last week."