Sport Guinness PRO12

Sunday 20 August 2017

Sexton: 'We've come full circle in the last year'

Sexton with Jack McGrath (left) and Sean O’Brien at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby summer campsare. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Sexton with Jack McGrath (left) and Sean O’Brien at the launch of the Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby summer campsare. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Tomorrow will be a year to the day since Johnny Sexton decided to go public and criticise Leinster's culture because, as he put it, it was nowhere near where it was when the province were winning European Cups.

Twelve months on and just a couple of days after Leinster crashed out of the Champions Cup semi-final, things have seemingly shifted back in the right direction.

A few home truths were told to the younger players about the values within the club and while the bitter disappointment of the defeat to Clermont will linger for a while yet, the future looks bright once again.

Stuart Lancaster's influence has been key and he will extend his stay but it was telling that after Sexton returned from his two-year sojourn in France to find that Leinster had lost their way, he felt the need to take the kind of drastic action that most players would never have had the bottle to do.

Differently

Reflecting on his comments, the out-half concedes that he could have gone about it differently but what you see is what you get with Sexton, which is why he is serial winner.

While others were shying away from the issue, the 31-year-old addressed it head on and, as a result, Leinster have fought their way back to the top table in Europe.

"Obviously I maybe did it the wrong way last year in terms of saying what I thought about how things had gone," Sexton says.

"I just did it because I was trying to be honest, but I could have done it in a better way. But the place has come a long way in a year and hopefully we can get the result of that for the rest of this season."

Two years away from home comforts often acts as a reminder of how good life once was but when Sexton left for Racing 92, he admits: "In my mind I was there for the rest of my career.

"I didn't think I was coming back to a team that was building, I thought I was coming back to a successful team," he continues.

"Last year was a disappointment in a lot of ways, but this year has been everything that I wanted Leinster to be when I came back. Getting to a European final is a great thing to do and to win, but I couldn't be happier in training every day."

Sexton may have stung some of his team-mates by his honest assessment but, in hindsight, few would disagree that it was very much warranted.

"Look, we have come a long way," Sexton insists. "We don't need results as such to show how far we've come. It's pretty obvious internally, and it's pretty obvious to you guys how far we've come.

"Why we want success is for ourselves - for the effort that we've put in throughout the year, from day one, the amount of sacrifice that goes into it. That's why you want to win.

"In terms of showing how far we've come, I think we've shown that. That's not being arrogant or anything like that, it's just we have come a long way in the environment, the culture, the attitude everything. It's come full circle.

"It feels like it's back to the days when we were winning European Cups for fun. I remember walking around after we won three in four years, and it seemed easy. It felt like, 'We've got this cracked now, it's going to be like this every year.'

"Five years later, you're still waiting to get into another final. It just shows what a special competition it is to win, and I suppose how special that team was as well to win three in four. It's only now that you look back and go, 'Wow, that was pretty special.'"

The challenge Leinster now face is to win the kind of silverware that Sexton fully believes this new-look team are capable of and it's clear that he feels an added sense of responsibility to help them do so.

Drawing on past experiences will of course help but Sexton doesn't go along with the notion that you have to experience those tough days to win trophies.

"That (previous Leinster) team probably had a lot of those days as well to get to that stage," he adds.

"I don't think you always have to go through losses to be successful. I don't believe in that, but a lot of teams do have to.

"You look at Saracens now and the finals they lost, Munster before they won their first one, Leinster before they won theirs.

"There was plenty of heartbreak along the way that drives you, but I don't know if it was lack of drive. I think we were as motivated as we have been for years.

"We looked at a lot of teams that have lost and won, and we've been in the case where we have been that team that have lost and then won.

"It does make it a little bit more special when it happens, but it's about making it a habit. It's living up to the values and goals that you put in place at the start of the year, and then if the results and trophies come at the end of it, that's an added bonus.

"Like I said, one decision can change your whole season. One refereeing decision can decide whether you win a trophy or not, so does that make it a success or a failure?

"For us, it doesn't, once you give it everything. Last season we didn't win anything. We didn't deserve to win anything. Hopefully this season we'll be on the other side and we will deserve to."

Indo Sport

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport