independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Sexton: I can't wait to start at Racing

Jonathan Sexton and Sean O'Brien pose for a photograph on their arrival at Dublin Airport following the Lions’ series victory over Australia

IF THE radio ads are to be believed, there exists a service whereby you can pay for a rent-a-crowd to greet you at the airport when you come home from your holidays – cameras flashing and people screaming.

The Irish Lions got the real deal in Dublin yesterday and, after 24 hours of travelling following the conclusion of their six-week tour, they looked like all they wanted to do was go to bed.

Certainly, it seems clear that having members of the invited and assembled media to welcome them home isn't a service they'd be forking out for, as one by one they bobbed and weaved to avoid questions.

Brian O'Driscoll was chased down a corridor by the good women of the national television stations, while "not today lads" was the answer from a fatigued-looking Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip when he was asked for a comment.

Simon Zebo was in a rush to Carton House to pick up a car that was parked there six weeks ago before he jetted off for Houston to tour with Ireland but ended up in Australia, while Rob Kearney used his best full-back skills to watch from behind the line and pick the best way through, signing autographs as he went.

The two players present who started the final Test bit the bullet and were instantly surrounded by microphones as they got a taste of what becoming a series-winning Lion means back home.

Jonny Sexton was greeted by his fiancee Laura but, before she could whisk him away to prepare for a wedding that the out-half said he "just had to show up for" on Friday, he fielded questions from a throng of reporters.

The nuptials are another big day in a summer to remember for the man who moves to Racing Metro in two-and-a-half weeks. He makes the transfer as one of three Test Lions along with Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate, who also make the move to Paris.

Sexton's move has been controversial and much discussed, but after his initial reluctance he is now looking forward to a fresh start.

"Hopefully they are looking forward to working with me as much as I am with them. I can't wait to get started, to prove myself in a new environment over there with a new language that I haven't practised that much over the past few weeks, so it's a good challenge on many levels," he said.

He can go on a high after an underwhelming season for club and country was rescued by his try-scoring role in the Lions' first series win since 1997.

Special

"It's massive to be part of the Lions no matter what happens but then to be part of the winning Test series... not very many people have done it. That's what makes it very special," he said.

For Sean O'Brien – who was left out of the squad for the first Test, came off the bench in the second and played a big role from the start in the third – the whole experience was one to savour.

The Tullow native said the emotion of winning the series overwhelmed him in Sydney on Saturday. "It was one of those days I'll never forget. I was feeling a bit sick, I think with the whole atmosphere and soaking everything in," he said.

"It was an unbelievable experience, the whole tour. It will be etched forever in my memory.

"Winning a Lions series is always going to be one of the pinnacles of lads' careers. It is hard to compare: we have had a couple of good days with our club and now, hopefully, a couple of great days ahead with our country."

O'Brien set off for his home town in Carlow to catch up with friends and get to work on the family farm.

He and the Leinster squad reassemble on August 6 under new coach Matt O'Connor. "I'm looking forward to getting in and having a chat with Matt soon all right, that will be something different and new and that's what makes it so exciting," he said.

That can wait. The Lions are off to rest for the summer after a long season and a tiresome morning in the arrivals hall.

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