Shane Horgan believes Scotland have been given ‘a chink of light’ by the news Johnny Sexton will miss tomorrow’s Six Nations opener.
The Ireland fly-half has been ruled out of tomorrow’s match due to a calf injury and former winger Horgan, is convinced Sexton’s absence will have huge impact, both physically and mentally, on the clash at Murrayfield.
“He is going to be a big miss. The way they play changes. He is such a big character and he is so dominant,” said Horgan.
“There are two things that happen when he doesn’t play: you lose that running game that I don’t think any of the other 10s in Ireland have. That ability to take the ball forward to the line, but also release the ball at the same time - so you are effectively holding the inside really well.
“Nobody does it as well as him. Then he has that loop play, when he does a pop, he almost appears impossible to defend.
“If he executes it properly they almost always get around or he goes through the hole.”
The 38-year-old can remember first hand the last time he watched a match turn when the fly-half was forced off through injury, as Leinster lost to Montpellier in the Champions Cup back in October of last year.
That day Horgan admits he saw the French side’s chests puff out as Sexton trudged off the park and he believes that same glimmer of hope will be in the Scotland players’ eyes tomorrow.
He added: “It was very obvious in the last game he went off in which was Montpellier for Leinster, they had them beaten all ends up and in the first 20 minutes they were blowing them off the park - then Sexton goes off.
"You can see the body language of the opposition just change. The way they started playing and the way they committed, they saw that chink of light and the opportunity to win when he was gone.
“I think Scotland have that. I am just reading some of the comments in the last 24 hours. [Greig] Laidlaw was flagging it up and saying it is a positive, you can’t really think about it in any other way.”
Sexton’s absence from Murrayfield on Saturday is also likely to have a huge impact on how much Scotland’s fly-half, Finn Russell, influences the game. The 24-year-old has been one of the best performers in the northern hemisphere this season and Horgan believes he could now thrive without the added pressure of coming up against Sexton.
“It does take a bit of stress out of it,” Horgan added. “I don’t care how good a 10 you are and I know people always say they want to play against the best players, challenge themselves, but you want to win the game as well! And anything that makes that easier, I think you want.
“That is the case when Sexton doesn’t play, Ireland don’t play quite as well. It is not to say they can’t win but they don’t play at their capacity.
“So it will be interesting to see how he reacts because it does give him the opportunity to be the dominant player in the game.”
Shane Horgan was speaking at a Robert Walters event. An Official Sponsor of The British & Irish Lions. For info visit robertwalters.co.uk.
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