Wednesday 28 September 2016

Johnny Sexton searching for his best form following Leinster return

Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30

Johnny Sexton at yesterday’s Leinster press conference
Johnny Sexton at yesterday’s Leinster press conference

As Johnny Sexton continues to re-familiarise himself with the surrounds of Dublin, a large proportion of his thoughts remain rooted with the people of the city whom he lived amongst for the last two years.

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The fact that Sexton recognised and related to the sights where the terrorist attacks took place in Paris last Friday night struck a chord even more but he was quick to dismiss the suggestion that it contributed to his, or indeed Leinster's, poor performance in the Champions Cup defeat to Wasps last Sunday.

The Ireland out-half lived on the outskirts of Paris during his two-year spell with Racing Metro and he admitted that watching the horrific events unfold made him even more glad to be back in Dublin.

"I only heard about it late on Friday, just before I went to bed, and I ended up staying up a few more hours watching Sky News," Sexton recalled.

"You are obviously pretty concerned for the people you know over there and for the people of Paris. It hits home a bit more when you have lived there for a few years.

"You have visited the places that were hit. Thankfully, all my friends over there were okay.

Worried

"Look, it's hard to talk about because it affects so many people and I'm not there any more. The people I know in Paris are pretty shook-up and pretty worried. Obviously my thoughts are with them.

"To see the Stade de France, thankfully the security there...I've been there a few times at concerts and games when I was living there, football or rugby games, and the security is top-notch.

"At the time you think it's a pain in the arse when they're frisking you going in to watch a football game, but it obviously saved a hell of a lot of lives.

"But, yeah, it is a worry (that sporting events are being targeted). But, again, it sort of makes you appreciate being back in Dublin. Rugby is a different game and it wasn't part of the reason why we played badly."

Sexton has played three games for Leinster since returning from the World Cup and he admitted that he has yet to settle back into his stride.

The 30-year-old was off-form in the RDS last weekend and his poor performance was typified by him putting a restart out on the full and a penalty out over the dead-ball area.

After putting together a run of three straight wins, Sexton conceded that players were possibly a bit complacent heading into the Wasps game.

"I suppose the first three months I was back in Ireland were with Ireland, more even. The week of the Treviso game was the first time I've been in a Leinster training jersey," he explained.

"So yeah, I'm still trying to bed into the new environment. It's been really good. The coaches have been doing a great job and we thought we were going along pretty nicely considering the amount of players we've had away.

"We got the two good results in the last couple of Guinness (Pro12) games in terms of getting five points away to Treviso and then beating a dogged Scarlets team here who are top of the league and playing with two different teams.

"We thought we were in a good place and maybe that was half the problem. We maybe thought it was just going to click into place at the weekend and it certainly didn't."

Leinster now face the prospect of having to travel to Bath on Saturday knowing that they must win to realistically keep alive their hopes of advancing from an extremely tough pool.

They will, however, be boosted by the fact that Ben Te'o (glute), Luke Fitzgerald (shoulder) and Rhys Ruddock (wrist) took part in training yesterday.

Captain Isa Nacewa (knee) and Rob Kearney (hamstring) sat out the session while a decision will be made on Sean O'Brien, Richardt Strauss and Mike McCarthy (all concussion) later in the week.

There is an overriding sense that the players have accepted responsibility for their lacklustre performance and Sexton wasn't pulling any punches when it came to the scale of the task that lies ahead in Bath.

"I was obviously shell-shocked straight after the game," he maintained.

"We are trying to play a little bit differently to how we played with the Irish team and we are playing under different calling structures but we are professionals and what we produced wasn't good enough.

"We're not getting away from that and I hope Leo (Cullen) wasn't either. I think it was disjointed and a bit all over the place at times and we've looked at that this morning to hopefully try and figure out ways of getting around that.

"Hopefully it is manageable. If every player on the pitch makes one mistake, that's way too many errors for the team. That's 15 errors.

"The way the game went at the weekend, I think everyone contributed two or three at least and it just added up.

"Last year, teams obviously qualified out of the pool winning four games, having lost their first two but with the pool that we're in, we really need a result this week.

"Hopefully we can be a hell of a lot better this week because if we're not, we're not going to be far from being out of the competition."

With back-to-back meetings with Toulon next month, Leinster have a mammoth task but they have proven in the past that they can manoeuvre their way out of difficult situations.

Irish Independent

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