Sexton’s workload between Ireland and Racing Metro duties might have lessened after Christmas, but the season in general was one long and demanding campaign for a player who was used to being used more sparingly while at Leinster.
“I’m not sure I would have brought him on tour,” said Quinlan at an event yesterday to promote Sky Sports’ coverage of the two Tests. “I’d have wrapped him up in cotton wool and given him a long summer off myself.
“I’d certainly be taking him off in both matches if the opportunity presents itself, if Ireland are going well. I’m sure that might happen.”
Ian Madigan’s demotion to the Emerging Ireland squad was the main headline from Schmidt’s initial squad but the Leinster 10, who starts behind Jimmy Gopperth on the bench for tonight’s PRO12 final, is certain to see game-time in Argentina.
How much and where remains to be seen.
“I’d probably like to see him at 12 for a game,” said Paul Wallace. “He needs to start playing a bit more for Leinster at 10.
“Gopperth’s an excellent player, but long-term for Leinster … Madigan is the guy and people just have to be patient.
“I remember not so long ago, people talking about Jonny Sexton not being able to manage a game properly.”
With Brian O’Driscoll now a former international, much of the focus this month will be on who makes the first move to replace the great man in the 13 jersey, especially with Connacht’s heir apparent Robbie Henshaw unavailable through injury.
Jared Payne is another believed to be towards the front of the queue but the Ulster player is not Ireland-qualified just yet which leaves the door open for his club counterpart Darren Cave and Quinlan believes it is now or never for the 27-year-old.
“He’s got to step up now and take hold. From my own experience, I was on the edge of the squad a good few times and you get opportunities and injuries. It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s got to perform now.” Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls will also be available to feature at 13 should the need arise but, whoever fills the jersey will be facing a less daunting task than would have been the case a few short years ago.
“I mean this respectfully to the guy, but I think over the last year he became more normal,” said Quinlan.
“He wasn’t hitting the same heights, making all of those clean line breaks and breaking the gainline all the time.
“He had to adapt and change his game like a lot of players have to do in their 30s when they have lost that yard of pace maybe, especially for a back. So, yeah, preparation for life without Brian O’Driscoll started a year and a half ago even, maybe two years at Leinster.”