FORMER LEINSTER AND Ireland star Brian O’Driscoll believes Joe Schmidt still has an ‘easy selection’ decision at number 10 despite the Six Nations struggles of Ireland and Jonathan Sexton.

Sexton and Carbery take in kicking practice in Murrayfield earlier this year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton claimed the World Rugby Player of the Year award at the tail end of 2018 before he again guided Leinster to a Heineken Champions Cup final and a successful defence of the Pro14.

However, an arduous Six Nations in which Sexton struggled to show his best form until the fourth-round win over France casts a lingering shadow over Irish prospects.

Joey Carbery currently leads the queue ahead of Ross Byrne and Jack Carty as Sexton’s understudies, but O’Driscoll can’t see the back-up options forcing their way ahead of the experienced incumbent in the pecking order.

Jamie Carragher & Brian O’Driscoll launch ‘Sports Extra’ on Sky. The new sports pack which includes BT Sports will be available from August 1.

“He’s very exciting,” said O’Driscoll of Carbery as he helped Sky Sports launch their ‘Sports Extra’ package.

“By (Sexton’s) standards maybe he had a shaky few months and hasn’t had the same performances as he had in the last few seasons, but he’s still vital to Ireland’s success in the World Cup.

“It’s an easy selection, because he knows exactly what the team needs to achieve and everyone’s role within it.”

Sexton and Carbery shake hands after the Pro14 semi-final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Next month, Ireland will take on Italy, England and Wales in four warm-up Tests before going to Japan.

Though history suggests that form in pre-World Cup Tests is not a pre-requisite to a good tournament, the matches provide a valuable proving ground for players to find their rhythm and build individual form.

And while many eyes are drawn straight to the quarter-final permutations – a toss-up between South Africa and New Zealand – or the possibility of a historic semi-final appearance, O’Driscoll is wary of the threat from an exceptionally dangerous Scotland team in Ireland’s opening match on 22 September in Yokohama.

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“We’ll feel as though we have the beating of Scotland, but we can be beaten by Scotland. There’s no doubt.

“We were beaten by them (in the 2017 Six Nations). Look at what they did to England, pulled them apart in Twickenham. We have to give them utmost respect and hit the ground running.

“And that’s why, maybe, there’s four warm-up games. To make sure everyone has two games under their belt and make sure they’re firing.

“If you don’t come out of the blocks against Scotland, you’ll be on the receiving end of a defeat that will absolutely take the wind out of your sails – worse than what happened against England.”

From the outside looking in, we often see a temptation to tread tentatively through the warm-up schedule and make sure not to succumb to injury. O’Driscoll, who was an injury concern leading up to the 2007 World Cup after a facial injury in an infamous clash with Bayonne, brushes off the notion.

Brian O’Driscoll gets his injury inspected after being punched in Bayonne. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“That’s just not the way you go out and play a Test match,” says the Ireland and Leinster legend, “the second you have that mentality you’ll encourage injury or encourage something you’re trying to fend off.

“Even the warm-up game in ’07 when I had my sinus fractured, I didn’t think, ‘I’m going to miss the World Cup.’ And I didn’t think, ‘I’ve to hold back here’, or ‘protect yourself’. It’s not really the attitude you expect from a team who’s going to go on and have some success.

“Injuries will happen, unfortunately. In all likelihood we’ll lose a few players in advance and probably in the pool stage (too). That’s the game we play now. You might get lucky. The Grand Slams we’ve won – we had very few injuries in ’09 and not many in 2018 – so you do need a lot of luck when you’re Irish.

“Hopefully the ferocity of those warm-up games won’t be so brutal that there will be casualties, and not key casualties.”

Sexton certainly comes into that category.

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