Sunday 20 August 2017

Ice-cool Sexton takes leaf out of O'Driscoll book

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton converts the
try of team-mate Sean Cronin during
Saturday's Heineken Cup clash with
Montpellier at Stade de la Mosson
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton converts the try of team-mate Sean Cronin during Saturday's Heineken Cup clash with Montpellier at Stade de la Mosson

JONATHAN SEXTON must be wondering what he has to do to shake off his great rival in Irish rugby, Ronan O'Gara, after he proved, once again, that he has the fire in his gut, but also the ice in his veins to earn Leinster a draw against Montpellier.

The Irish and Leinster out-half managed to slot over a difficult touchline penalty with the last kick of the match to secure the reigning champions a creditable draw against a rampant French outfit, who proved almost too hot to handle for the Blues.

But, while Sexton was proving his credentials as a top European No 10, his great rival and the veteran out-half of Irish rugby, was going one better for Munster and clinching a remarkable win with a drop goal with the last kick of the game against Northampton Saints in Limerick.

It may have been a case of c'est la vie for Sexton and part of his gig as the younger man in this great rivalry, but nobody should doubt what the Dubliner did for Leinster, who were battered and bruised and, at times, thrown around like rag dolls by a brutal Montpellier outfit.

Sexton also proved, with this performance, that there's life without Brian O'Driscoll, who will miss the whole of Leinster's defence of their European crown, as there must be and that he's the side's leader-in-waiting.

But the No 10 is more than aware that while he has more than proved himself in the Leinster shirt -- especially with his heroics during last season's dramatic comeback to win the Heineken Cup in Cardiff -- he still has yet to really prove himself in the green shirt of Ireland.

The Leinster playmaker is suitably phlegmatic about his plight, but clearly feels he has something to prove in the Test arena. That, of course, can only be good for Ireland.

"Stuff happens," said Sexton. "I went to the World Cup with high hopes for myself and the team and things didn't go to plan and there are reasons for that, but it's how you bounce back.

"I am just delighted to be back playing with my mates at Leinster and it's a great set-up and we have a coach who allows us to go out and express ourselves.

"The World Cup is gone and I am sure I will be reminded of it for the next few months and maybe the next few years until the next one."

He doesn't have anything to prove to his coach Joe Schmidt, who waxed lyrical about his pivot and has nothing but admiration for the composure shown by Sexton towards the end of this gripping contest.

"That's typical Jonny," said Schmidt. "I don't think he was rattled by it at all. I think it helps him narrow his focus and get the job done and he did that superbly."

Leinster found themselves 16-6 behind midway through the second half thanks to a breakaway try from skipper Fulgence Ouedraogo and the boot of Francois Trinh-Duc, but two astute replacements by Schmidt saw Eoin Reddan and Sean Cronin, who showed an impressive turn of pace to score a try, drag the visitors back into the contest.

"It was left until the end to secure the draw and we would have maybe taken that at the start of the day and, I suppose, it's a good result for us away in Europe," said Sexton.

"At times we handled them well, but at times we were sloppy and turned the ball over too often off first phase, which is your bread and butter and that's why we struggled to get into the game.

"To be fair to Montpellier, they defended well and attacked us very directly and we fell off some tackles, but two points away from home in France you would take every day."

Fabien Galthie, the former France skipper and Montpellier coach, who guided his unheralded side to the Top 14 final last season, did an impressive job of keeping his obvious frustration in check after the match.

"Leinster had possession, they didn't lower their rhythm, they played in a methodical and structured manner," he said. "They didn't put us in too much difficulty, but they made us retreat and retreat and made us foul."

Montpellier -- L Amorosino; T Nagusa (M Bustos Moyano 66), G Doumayrou, S Fernandez, Y Audrin; F Trinh-Duc, B Paillaugue (J Tomas 51); N Leleimalefaga (M Nariashvili 78), A Creevy (r van vuuren 62), M Bustos (G Jgenti 61), M Demarco, T Privat (D Hancke 57), F Ouedraogo (capt) (r van vuuren 72), M Gorgodze, M Matadigo (R Martin 41).

Leinster -- R Kearney; I Nacewa, F McFadden, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss (E Reddan 50); H Van Der Merwe, R Strauss (S Cronin 57), M Ross (N White 59), L Cullen (capt), D Browne (D Toner 57), K McLaughlin (S Jennings 57), S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Ref -- D Pearson (England).

Irish Independent

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