Monday 26 September 2016

Triple threat: Henshaw, O'Connell and Sexton on life off the pitch

Irish rugby stars on life off the pitch

Published 13/09/2015 | 02:30

The 3 Ambassadors: Jonathan Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Robbie Henshaw.
The 3 Ambassadors: Jonathan Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Robbie Henshaw.
Athlone's finest: Robbie Henshaw
Johnny Sexton

We asked Irish Independent readers what they wanted to ask three Irish rugby heroes about, ahead of the Rugby World Cup. Bairbre Power met them and posed your questions

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Robbie Henshaw

DOB: 12th Jun 1993

Robbie Henshaw crosses the line for Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile.
Robbie Henshaw crosses the line for Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile.
Johnny Sexton in action for Ireland

Birthplace: Athlone

Height: 6' 3"

Weight: 16 st 3 lb

Position: Centre / Full Back

France-bound Munster legend Paul O'Connell. Photo: Kip Carroll
France-bound Munster legend Paul O'Connell. Photo: Kip Carroll

Caps: 12

Tell us something we might not know about you?

I'm big into water sports and I play a little bit of Irish music as well.

What's on your Spotify for the Rugby World Cup?

Plenty of chilled out music, a little bit of Ben Howard and some high tempo music as well for before the game. There's a bit of everything really, for downtime and just to switch off.

Do you have a pre-match routine?

Yes, I'd always pack my bag and get my stuff ready the night before, have my boots cleaned in Rala's [Baggage Master] room, so I don't have anything to worry about. Then I'd put in my earphones before I get on the bus on the way to the stadium. I just chill out, get ready for the game, a little bit of visualisation and just a quick prayer before I go out on to the pitch.

Who were your sporting heroes when you were growing up and who would you really like to meet?

Jonah Lomu, I really admired him as a kid. I just remember that ad, when he was in the train station and he was running along and picked up a kid. I wanted to be that kid! Obviously Brian O'Driscoll is a big influence in Irish rugby and I always admired him as a kid. I loved watching Usain Bolt in the 100 metres and 200 metres.

What other sports do you play apart from rugby?

I play Gaelic and I play a little bit of soccer as well. Hopefully I'll go back to Gaelic one day.

Would you consider moving abroad like Johnny Sexton has done and Paul O'Connell is about to do?

Not at this moment in time. If I ever did move away it would definitely have an impact on me, because I would miss home. It's where I grew up, it's where my roots are.

What's your favourite app?

WhatsApp because it's really good for contacting people. I probably phone my missus, Sophie, the most. I like Instagram. I kind of just give people an insight to the other side of me on my Instagram so not a lot of sports-related stuff, it's kind of a different side to me, and then my Twitter is more of the sporty side of me. That's how I like to balance it.

Which of your Instagram pics got the biggest reaction?

The one with the Six Nations trophy taken in the Shelbourne Hotel after we came back from the game in Scotland.

Who's the biggest nerd on the Irish rugby squad?

I'd have to say Mike Ross because he's really into his technology and he knows everything there is about Windows and Apple and all that. He's helped me and given me a few pointers here and there.

What's on your travel bucket list?

I'd like to see Bali or Thailand. I've been to the States three times.

What do you think of the Boring Kearney Twitter account?

I think it's funny, but I think it's obviously dying a slow death now. It was funny at the start but I think people have moved past it now, which is good for Rob and Dave.

What's your favourite piece of clothing in your wardrobe?

I'd be a big shopper in Zara in Athlone so probably a couple of jackets and shirts from there.

Would you like to design a range of clothes like Tommy Bowe?

Not at the moment. I'm still learning a bit about fashion, I don't think I'd be into that yet, but maybe down the line.

What's your party piece, or your karaoke choice?

I haven't done a lot of karaoke before, but if I was given a mic and had to sing, I'd probably sing Galway Girl.

What do you sing in the shower?

Titanium by David Guetta.

What's your favourite fruit and veg? Bananas, carrots and parsnips.

Do you have any pets?

I have two dogs and one cat.

What's your biggest talent off the field?

I suppose playing music (the squeezebox). I've played since I was about eight years of age. I'm obviously really busy with rugby at the moment so I need to get back into it a little bit more, to switch off as well.

What's your guilty pleasure?

Popcorn and sweets, and a trip to the cinema.

What's the most expensive thing you've ever bought?

Probably a muscle recovery machine I bought in the UK last year.

What's your idea of perfect happiness?

Good food is really good for making me happy, being around family and good weather as well.

What would be your favourite road trip?

Route 94 in California and I'd probably take a couple of my close mates from Athlone with me.

Which superhero characters do you identify with most?

I don't know if I identify with him but I loved Spiderman as a young kid, probably Superman as well.

Apart from the final, which rugby World Cup game are you looking forward to most?

I have to say the first game in the World Cup because of the nerves. The atmosphere building up and the thoughts about it, with the Round One game there's such excitement and getting out on the pitch and hopefully getting to play in my first World Cup would be a dream come true.

What's your favourite song at the moment?

Michael Calfan's Treasured Soul.

What are you reading at the moment?

I've just finished the Roy Keane autobiography. I'm not sure what I'm going to go on to next.

Do you think Ireland can win this World Cup?

Absolutely, I think we've a really good chance. We need to do what we can for our team, do the best for the players around us and hopefully things will go our way.

What are your personal ambitions for the upcoming rugby season?

I want to keep getting better and keep improving my skills on the pitch. Hopefully mature into an Irish jersey, get to the World Cup and hopefully do really well in that.

How much confidence has Ireland's Six Nations success given the World Cup squad?

It has given us a massive bout of confidence. People are looking at us now and thinking we're up there as number two, number three in the world, so I think we just need to put that behind us and go and hit our next challenge.

What do you love about Athlone?

It's just home. I always come here on my down days from Carton House on a Wednesday and go for a coffee with friends. It's a really nice place to go and switch off, it's where I grew up, it's my home. I'd swim in the Shannon nearly every weekend. I go straight in at the back of the house which is handy. It's a nice spot.

Who is your roomie?

Kieran Marmion has been but it varies with different games. I've been with Ian Madigan before and Conor Murray. It's chopped and changed a good bit.

What have you enjoyed most about being a Three ambassador?

I really liked shooting the #AllitTakes video and doing it with Paul and Johnny was really good craic.

What do you do when you have time off in the Ireland camp?

We play cards, go to the cinema and go out for a coffee. A lot of coffee is drunk in camp.

What's your most treasured possession?

Probably the family home, the house that I've been reared in.

What's your greatest fear?

Not living life to the full. I try to just enjoy myself all the time in whatever I'm doing.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

Not sure really. Maybe change my hair style, blonde [lots of laughter].

Jonathon Sexton

DOB: 11th Jul 1985

BIRTHPLACE: Dublin

HEIGHT: 6’ 2”

WEIGHT: 14 st 6 lb

POSITION: Fly Half

CAPS: 53

Did you miss your hometown when you were away?

Of course, you definitely miss bits of it and certain people, things that you used to do. We settled into life in Paris really well. We loved our life there, there were some frustrations for me around the rugby side of things and trying to get home for internationals and all that but we had a really great couple of years in Paris.

What advice did you give to your fellow Three ambassador, Paul O'Connell, as he embarks on his French adventure?

He was kind of holding off on learning French until he arrived really and I told him to get cracking on it straight away. I did a lot of work before I went, just to have a little bit of the basics when you arrive. I know that there won't be too many French players in Toulon, but you'll have to speak to the locals, and it'll impress them.

Tell us something we might not know about Johnny Sexton ?

I've got a son, Luca, who is 14 months old and is making my time off from rugby not really feel like time off anymore. It's more like work when I'm at home and rest when I'm at work so it's very busy at the moment.

Are you good at changing nappies?

I try and do my fair share. You get pressure from the coaches to get your proper rest and your recovery in. You've got excuses all the time to stay in bed that extra hour but I try to do my best when I'm home. It's great spending time with Luca whenever I get the chance.

Do you think you're more stylish after coming back (from Racing Metro) in Paris?

I wish! I'd come back in my usual jeans and runners and T-shirt, and ROG used to say to me to get a suit on me and just pretend at least we've become more stylish. I think he used to throw on a few controversial outfits for RTE. He doesn't really wear that over in Paris though. He just does it here so everyone thinks that he's stylish or at least picked up on the Paris fashion. But no, we were getting slagged over in Paris at the state of us walking around the place.

Who's the biggest joker on the Irish squad and have they ever pranked you?

Fergus McFadden would probably be up there with the biggest jokers. He generally doesn't do pranks though. The last time I got pranked was my last April Fool's Day in Leinster. I kick for maybe 45 minutes to an hour after training and all the other boys get showered and go home. I came out to find my car filled with those plastic balls that are in children's play pens and it was full to the brim. I think Jamie Heaslip had something to do with it. I went back, collected all the balls and threw them into his back garden, and I kidnapped his dog. I think we had the last laugh.

Who is your roomie on the Irish squad?

Rob Kearney and Eoin Reddan would have been traditionally, and Luke Fitzgerald at times. Over the last couple of years, I've been rooming a little bit by myself. I just find, you know, with international games, the pressure, it's so high, that at times it's easier to be by yourself, the morning of the game. Maybe later on in the week, I room by myself but in the early part of the week I room with one of those three guys. This summer, Devin Toner has been a regular roomie.

What's the trait you most deplore in others?

I would say bad manners.

Is there a trait that you deplore in yourself?

I'm not the most tolerant, that's probably it.

What would be your favourite road trip and who would you bring as your travelling companion?

Fergus McFadden and Sean Cronin to Vegas. I wouldn't come back alive [laughter].

What's on your Rugby World Cup Spotify playlist?

It's really mixed to be honest, I've got a bit of everything. Mumford & Sons are high up on the playlist, Kings of Leon. I tend to listen to whatever the other guys are listening to on the bus. Simon Zebo and Cian Healy are generally the DJs and they mix it up well, so I just trust them really.

What's your favourite song at the moment?

The new Mumford & Sons one, it's called Love.

Do you have a pre-match routine?

I tend to be quite regimental in my preparation for games. I try to get proper recovery in during the week, and make sure my gear is ready early in the week, that I have everything and that I'm not searching for gum shields or kicking tees the morning of the match.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I'm not a big chocolate eater. I like a takeaway or something like that. I got into the red wine a little bit when I was in France. The president of the club over there, he had his vineyards in Bordeaux and he used to be throwing the red wine down our neck every chance he got.

What would you be if you weren't a professional rugby player?

I'd like to think I would have done something around medicine, physiotherapy, something like that. That was my goal when I was in school; I had medicine down on the CAO, but I didn't get enough points. I went in to do engineering which I hated and then I went into commerce.

Are you a good cook?

No, I'm an absolutely terrible cook. Laura is a good cook, thankfully. My spare time really is all about spending time with Laura and Luca, getting out for dinner, or going away and spending some time with them.

What's your favourite boxset?

It'd be a throw between Game Of Thrones and I've just started watching Borders.

Which Frozen character would you be and why?

I'd be the snowman, what's his name again? Olaf, he just seems so oblivious to everything that is going on in the world.

Do you get sick of being asked for selfies?

I'm not a fan of selfies but I don't mind. It's a nice thing when people want to get pictures with you because you know there are times when they're not going to want to in the future so make the most of it. It's nice when people recognise you.

Are you superstitious before a match?

I have little things that would be a bit sentimental to me in my kit bag, but I try not to be too superstitious.

What's your post-match treat?

Pizza is big. We're fairly strict in camp these days, so when you get a chance to have a treat, after a game is the ideal time. The amount of calories that you burn up during game, it's essential to get them back in.

What's your favourite piece of clothing in your wardrobe?

Honestly, I tend to be really casual all the time. I get slagged for wearing a lot of Adidas gear all the time. After training, you throw on what's comfortable

Where would you most like to live?

I love Dublin to be honest. If I can find a house in Dublin, I'd like to live here forever. Ballybunion would be the other spot in Ireland that I love. I spent a lot of time there as a kid and going there is always great but I haven't been there in a while. If I had to pick somewhere abroad, I think Portugal. I go there nearly every summer and just absolutely love it.

What's your idea of perfect happiness?

I'm pretty happy at the moment. I suppose family time is ideal for me. What would you consider your greatest achievement?

Sporting wise, it is hard to put a finger on one. I'm very lucky to have been a part of a lot of very good teams, to win a lot of big competitions. Obviously getting picked for the Lions is such an individual honour. Off the field, obviously having a kid and getting my degree while I was still playing rugby was a big moment.

What's your biggest talent off the field?

Maybe golf, if I practised enough.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

The amount of stick I get over my lack of shoulders, I'd probably give myself some big, square shoulders.

Paul O'Connell

DOB: 20th Oct 1979

BIRTHPLACE: Limerick

HEIGHT: 6’ 6”

You are leaving Munster for Toulon. Parlez-vous Francais?

I did it until third year at school so I have a small bit of French. I am doing some lessons at the moment trying to improve. It’s something I want to do, I want to pick up the language over there. It will be hard work but I think it will be a fun challenge.

Did Johnny Sexton loan you some tapes?

He did actually. I’m asking him questions all the time. I think it’s important to learn rugby French first so that I can communicate with players on the pitch, that’s probably the most important thing.

Did Ronan O’Gara give you any tips about playing in France?

I spoke to him a lot about it but in terms of tips for playing, no, not really. Emily spoke to his wife a little bit about schools and that. That’s the only thing I’m worried about, is Paddy settling into school. He’s starting school here in Ireland before he leaves for a few months and then he goes into L’Ecole Maternelle over there. So he’s in a kind of a kindergarten or a montessori for half a year and then he starts big school over there next summer. So at least he’ll get six or seven months of trying to pick up the language before he goes in. That’s the main worry you know, everything else, we’re looking forward to. I just hope Paddy settles into school okay.

When will the family officially move over?

We haven’t decided yet, but it will be sometime mid-November or early December.

What will you miss most about playing for Munster and living in Limerick?

I’ll miss everything. It’s been my life for 14 years, you know. It’s not a nine-to-five job, it’s something that’s at the back of your mind all the time. You’d  miss the big days at Thomond Park,  particularly the big European Cup games in December and January, when it’s all on the line. You’d miss the fun with the guys that you’re training with and from a Limerick point of view, I’ll miss the people. This is obviously where I grew up, all my family are here, my friends are here. The sense of humour of Limerick people, that’s probably the main thing that I enjoy. I’ll miss that. I’ll miss the social scene, the sport scene, I’ll miss the rugby, but that’s life. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in Limerick and lived in  Limerick for all my life. But I think for a bit of perspective, it’s nice to get  away for a while and do something different.

Tell us something we might not know about Paul O’Connell? Are you good in the kitchen?

I’m not bad in the kitchen. I’d be quite healthy in what I eat and what I prepare. I’m not bad at the kitchen and not bad at the garden as well now. I never thought I would be one that would enjoy gardening, but I am enjoying it gardening a little bit.

Are you talking about mowing the grass now or cutting the roses?

A little bit of both. I’ve a lot of plants now and I’m working hard on my lawn and all that. Maybe it’s a sign of my old age. I am hitting the age where gardening comes into your mind so I’m doing a good bit of gardening it at the moment.

Apart from rugby, what other sports do you watch on TV?

I like golf. I grew up playing golf a lot, so I love watching golf. I enjoyed the PGA and I like watching GAA. I’m lucky enough I suppose to meet a lot of the guys. I’ve met Colm Cooper, Henry Shefflin, Paul Galvin and Denis Bastick. I think when you meet them, you enjoy watching it more because you kind of know the guy a little bit. I’d say they’re the main sports. I don’t watch soccer at all. I can’t handle watching soccer. But I must say I love watching golf and I love watching GAA And I watch a lot of rugby as well.

What’s your golfing handicap like?

My handicap is nine but I wouldn’t play to it, I’d struggle to play to it. I used to play a lot when I was young, and I haven’t played at all in the last number of years. Last night was my second time playing this year.

What is your cheat meal?

I’d say a fry-up. I must say I love sausages so I’d say a fry-up would be my cheat meal. The day after a game, I need a fry because it’s probably not the ideal thing during the week.

Are you looking forward to the food in France?

Emily and I got married over there and I love the food over there. I love foie gras and all that kind of stuff. Toulon is obviously on the coast as well and there’s a lot of fish so that’s one thing I’m looking forward to.

What’s on your Spotify for the World Cup?

I listen to the same stuff, it’s 80s stuff and a bit of 90s. When I try and put my music on in the gym, I generally get booed off. They might leave me in for two or three songs but that would be it. I get shunted off by Zebo or Jamie Heaslip or one of the lads.

What’s your favourite app?

Agenda, it’s a calendar app. You stick something in, you get sent a reminder a day before and two hours before, because I’m forgetful sometimes. It keeps me on track.

What do you think of the Boring Kearney Twitter account? Do you follow it?

I do, it’s  very accurate, very accurate. [He laughs].

Who on the squad makes you laugh?

Sean O’Brien, by a mile. He’s a phenomenal rugby player and a very serious guy when it comes to rugby but once the rugby stops, he just doesn’t stop messing from the start of the day to the finish. Probably Fergus McFadden as well, Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, they’re good company.

If you weren’t a professional rugby player, what would you be?

I studied computer engineering so I could be doing something in that, but I don’t know.

Which Frozen character would you be and why?

Frozen character? Crikey, these questions.[More laughter]. The only Frozen character I can think of is the snowman. What’s his name? Is that even Frozen? I can only think of the snowman because we nicknamed Felix [Jones] the snowman.

Would you fancy becoming a fashion designer like Tommy Bowe?

I don’t think that’s for me, definitely not, although I love his stuff. It’s always a struggle to get size 13 shoes but Tommy’s Lloyd & Pryce brand do them, so I wear them a lot as well.

What’s been the best moment from your rugby career to date? 

Every time I get asked this, I’d say I give a different answer. Winning the Grand Slam was incredible. We came so close so often, the last two years winning back-to-back championships has been brilliant as well. There’s been great days in Munster as well but I think every young guy’s dream is to play for Ireland. When we’ve won stuff with Ireland it’s been particularly special.

Who have been your favourite roomies over the years?

Because I’ve been captain a lot, you get a room on your own. But to be honest, it gets boring after a while. I’ve roomed with Keith Earls for the last while and we just get on very well. It’s important if you’re rooming with someone that you get on well with him, that you’re able to relax so I love rooming with Keith. I’d put him down as the number one. Donncha O’Callaghan would say that Simon Easterby, the Irish forwards coach now, was the best roomie in terms that he’d bring you water back to the room and collect your laundry, he’d remind you about meetings and all of that kind of stuff.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Chasing The Legends by Shane Ryan. It’s a book about the young guns in golf from 2014 who are kind of coming to take on Tiger Woods. I’m also reading a John Grisham book, it’s called Sycamore Row. I read that before bed, it would put me to sleep.

What’s your favourite boxset?

I would say it’s Breaking Bad. I enjoy watching that with my wife in the  evenings.

What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought recently?

I’d say shoes. I bought a nice pair of Barker shoes and I’m hoping they will last a long time.

Apart from the Irish squad, which rugby player do you admire most for their skills?

I was always a big Fabian Pelouse fan. He was second row for France and he’s  retired a long time now. He was my favourite player growing up.

In Three’s #AllitTakes videos, we’ve seen the effort required to play for Ireland — what is the hardest part of being a professional rugby player for Ireland?

For me there is no hard part, I love it. Giving everything for me comes naturally, I couldn’t imagine doing it in any other way. One hard thing for me is to put on weight, to keep on weight. I’m always force-feeding myself. I’m looking forward to the day when I don’t have to do that, when I can eat what I want, when I want.

Which Rugby World Cup game are you most looking forward to?

The first game, getting it all started. I don’t think it serves any value for us to get too far ahead of ourselves. So I’ll take the first game.

What international sports star would you most like to meet?

I’d love to meet Jason Day, the guy who won the US PGA. I’m reading a book at the moment — he had a fairly tough upbringing. Because he mentioned in the book about his upbringing, I was delighted to see him winning. The main people I like to meet in terms of sports are mainly the Irish. I suppose the people I grew up supporting when I was young. I love seeing Irish sports people doing well on the global stage. I mean I go back as far as Gary O’Toole in swimming, Sonia O’Sullivan in running, Philip Walton in golf. They’re all the people I supported growing up.

What’s the biggest change in professional rugby since you started?

I’d say probably the biggest change is video analysis — analysis of your own performance and analysis of the opposition’s performances. We spend four or five hours on video, and if we spent four or five minutes doing video analysis when I first started out that would be as much as I did.

What’s your party piece or karaoke song of choice?

I sing The Beach Boys’ Sloop John B but very poorly. I get up, I get as much down as can tick the box and I get out of there quickly.

What’s your idea of happiness?

I think I’m in my idea of happiness at the moment. You know I love playing rugby, I’ve a great family, I’ve a few big exciting challenges ahead of me in terms of  the World Cup and our move to France so it’s not a bad place to be at the moment.

Robbie, Paul and Johnny were all interviewed by Weekend magazine as part of the #AllitTakes campaign. They are brand ambassadors for Three, proud sponsors of the Irish rugby team.

Special thanks to the Clarion Hotel Limerick, Steamboat Quay, Co Limerick (061 444 100) for hosting our shoot with Paul O'Connell; to the Sheraton Athlone Hotel, Gleeson St, Athlone, Co Westmeath (090 645 1000) for hosting our shoot with Robbie Henshaw and the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8 (01 898 2900) for our shoot with Johnny Sexton.

Photography by Kip Carroll

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