Six Nations 2013: Phil Bennett on Wales & Ireland's fly-halves

By Phil BennettFormer Wales and Lions captain
Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton kicks under pressure from Wales captain Sam Warburton

Wales against Ireland on Saturday is a must-win game for both sides because if you lose your first match in the Six Nations you're immediately under pressure.

That is especially true for Wales who then face three away matches.

It's been so tight between Wales and Ireland over the last half-a-dozen years and I think it's going to be an outstanding game with so many talented players in opposition.

But if we won 6-3 I wouldn't be disappointed. Let's just get a victory under our belts, stop the run of losses we've had recently, and get some confidence back into the side. A win is everything on Saturday.

Ireland's fly-half Jonathan Sexton is a marvellous player and probably at the moment the number one choice for the Lions tour to Australia this summer.

But he is up against some very good players and the Six Nations will determine who gets that spot, because I believe Sexton hasn't quite reached his potential for Ireland.

He has been outstanding for Leinster, as the main controller for a multiple Heineken Cup-winning side, and he works very well with Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy in the midfield.

He's a good tackler, he's strong and he runs right up to the gain line. I also like the way Sexton brings his blind-side wingers in - he brings Rob Kearney from full-back at different angles, works well with Jamie Heaslip and he's an all-round talent.

But I think he suffers from a little bit of pressure when he's been in the Ireland side, because breathing down his neck all the time is the outstanding Ronan O'Gara.

I can see Ireland coach Declan Kidney's point of view - he'll bring Sexton off with 10-15 minutes to go and put O'Gara on, either to close the game up or maybe to get them down in certain positions because he's an outstanding kicker of the ball from hand and an outstanding goal-kicker.

But sometimes I think when Sexton is with Leinster, he thinks: "I'm in charge, I'm on for the 80 minutes, and it doesn't matter if I miss a kick, or if I slice one to touch - I'm still the main man."

We're very lucky in Wales because we've got several talented outside-halves.

One of them is injured - Rhys Priestland - and another, Cardiff Blues youngster Rhys Patchell, is playing for Wales Under-20s, but that leaves two men - Daniel Biggar and James Hook - fighting for that number 10 spot.

They've both got immense talent in different ways. I think Biggar was outstanding in the latter part of last season and he certainly has been this season.

He has really come on as a runner, has always been very vocal and confident, and he controls a game, all of which I like in a fly-half - I believe a number 10 has to have that authority to boss the game.

The Ospreys man probably got the nod over Hook because he is also playing under the eyes of the selectors and Wales interim head coach Robert Howley week in, week out - although Hook has played very well for Perpignan.

There is one thing that worries me a little, however. We in Wales expect miracles from our number 10s and perhaps we will expect a miracle from Biggar on Saturday.

But what happens if his pack don't give him the platform to play? Head coach Warren Gatland told Rhys Priestland: "You're my number one, just go out there and enjoy it." Will Biggar have that luxury?

Whoever plays on Saturday, it needs Howley to make a statement and say, "don't expect miracles from this first game, give these boys two or three games to get some rugby under their belts, and give them the confidence to play for Wales".

Hook is a rare talent and plays 10, 12 or 15 but even he would be a little bit nervous stepping into that number 10 slot knowing what the Welsh public expects of him.

When I saw him play for the Ospreys at number 10 he was playing there for two or three games, then he'd be playing in the centre, then he'd be somewhere else, then he'd be back at 10.

He can kick quite beautifully at times and is such a wonderfully balanced runner as well. Now he's out in France playing a high standard of rugby in the Top 14, perhaps he has become that controlling player at number 10.

But I think a little bit of reassurance from the management would not go amiss and Howley is very good at doing that. I hope he gives the number 10 all the backing in the world, whoever plays there.


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