Ireland captain Johnny Sexton wary of Adam Hastings’ ‘full bag of tricks’
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton believes Scotland stand-off Adam Hastings possesses a “full bag of tricks” and provides a seamless replacement for the influential Finn Russell.
Stand-off Russell will be a notable absentee for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener in Dublin after being disciplined for breaching team rules following an alleged late-night drinking session.
Glasgow Warriors player Hastings was named on Thursday as Russell’s replacement by Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.
Irish fly-half Sexton admits to being unsure of the potential impact of Townsend’s enforced reshuffle but has warned that his team-mates must be attentive to the talents of 23-year-old Hastings.
“It’s like for like, really. When you talk about Finn Russell’s strengths, you’re talking about Adam Hastings’ strengths, they’re all the same,” said Sexton.
“Arguably because he (Hastings) has been playing in Scotland and he’s been playing well, they might have started both of them, in the 10, 12 positions.
“I don’t know how it will disrupt them, they’ve sort of played it down a little bit.
“They seem to be happy with where they’re at and he’s a quality player and one that we are going to have to be fully switched on for because he has a full bag of tricks that he can pull out.”
Veteran Sexton is set to return to action for the first time since suffering a knee injury representing Leinster in December.
The 34-year-old, who has replaced the retired Rory Best as skipper, came through Ireland’s pre-tournament training camp in Portugal unscathed and insists he is “raring to go”.
He will continue his long-standing halfback partnership with Conor Murray at the Aviva Stadium after new head coach Andy Farrell resisted calls for the in-form John Cooney to come in at scrum-half.
With Ulster man Cooney having to settle for a spot among the replacements and Luke McGrath overlooked by Farrell, Sexton believes his country is fortunate to have such strength in the number nine position.
“I think competition is what every good side relies on,” said Sexton.
“When you’ve got guys that are coming up, whether it’s behind you or with you, and you’re all fighting for one place, it spurs you on.
“Conor has always been very self-driven from day one. He concentrates on himself and he’s looked sharp over the last 10 days, like all the nines have.
“You feel for Luke, he’s trained the house down and he’s gone home today. We’re blessed to have the quality and number of nines that we do.”
While the Murray-Cooney conundrum was the biggest dilemma facing Farrell ahead of his first team announcement, the inclusion of uncapped Leinster duo Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher also caught the eye.
Doris will start in the no. 8 position, while fellow 21-year-old Kelleher could make his debut from the bench after recently recovering from a fractured hand.
Ulster’s Rob Herring has been given the nod ahead of Kelleher at hooker and is tasked with filling the sizeable boots vacated by former skipper Best on his maiden Six Nations appearance.
The South Africa-born 29-year-old is eager to seize his opportunity after being an unused member of previous Six Nations squads and admits there is pressure with Kelleher waiting in the wings.
“This might be my fourth campaign, never managed to get on the pitch. It’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time now and something I’ve dreamt about,” said Herring.
“There’s a lot of competition in the squad, ultimately that’s what makes you better. If you want to be driving the highest standards, that’s what you need, no-one’s place is safe.
“We’re all trying to stick our hands up to get that number two jersey.
“Having not seen much of Ronan before, he’s impressed. He’s a pretty big boy, he’s pretty confident as well.”