Sexton warns IRFU to secure star players as he backs Schmidt to lead Ireland back to the top
Racing Metro ace sheds more light on his early relationship with former rival and current kicking coach O'Gara
JONATHAN SEXTON has backed Joe Schmidt to take Ireland to the next level, but he urged the IRFU to nail down its top players soon to avoid them following him to France.
The Racing Metro fly-half paid tribute to the work done by Schmidt's predecessor Declan Kidney, but believes that his former Leinster coach can get the national team back to competing at the top level after a desperately disappointing 18 months.
Sexton (right) has been able to attend both of the New Zealander's get-togethers since he started as Ireland coach and is positive about his impact.
"What is good now is that he is taking over a team in which Declan has done some incredible work, so hopefully now we can bring forward what we have done with Declan, and I think Joe is the right man to take us to the next level," said Sexton.
"I felt for Declan last year, because we had so many injuries in the Six Nations – it could have been all so different. If we had everyone fit, we could have really done something last year.
"Joe would be very different to Declan in that regard. Declan was very successful wherever he has gone, he was very into the detail as well in his own way.
"I never worked with Clive Woodward, but I gather Declan would be more along that line – overseeing everything and making sure that the other coaches were doing their job. Joe would be more hands on."
Sexton rowed in with Leinster coach Matt O'Connor in encouraging the Union to sign up Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien, saying: "There are some very important Irish players out of contract at the end of the season.
"I hope they sit down with these guys and get it sorted before it gets messy. They could do it now before there are other clubs sniffing around. They could have done it a few weeks ago."
Leinster coach O'Connor re-iterated his confidence that O'Brien and Heaslip will remain at the province beyond the end of this season.
"We've said all along that we want to keep them in our environment. They are Leinster guys and they love playing for Leinster," he said.
"We have passed on those sentiments to the relevant people in the Union, to the players and the people around them."
Meanwhile, Sexton shed further light on his relationship with former rival and current kicking coach Ronan O'Gara, having revealed that the ex-Munster out-half had called him a "nobody" early in his career.
"We got off on a bad footing. There was an edge between us. But there always is an edge between people who are competing for positions on the same team," he said.
"The media picked up on this rivalry and that's the way it all started. The media made it bigger than it probably was, but there was definitely an edge to it.
"There was a bit of an argument between us. In fairness, I probably said worse to him.
"In many ways he was right, because I was half-trying to break into the Leinster team and he had done it all with Munster, Ireland and the Lions.
"In his mind, he was probably thinking, 'who is this guy and who does he think he is?'"
"With Ronan you have to earn his respect. He wouldn't have respected me at that stage of my career."