Solid start for Sexton but 'lots of work to do'
Racing Metro 19 Brive 14
Published 19/08/2013 | 05:00
It was 10 minutes to midnight on Friday night outside Stade Yves-Du-Manoir in Montpellier and the crowd around the target was continuing to grow despite the lateness of the hour.
The blond-haired man continued to be dwarfed, not least as most of those surrounding him had their arms raised with camera phones flashing.
He just needed to make 15 paces from the door of the stadium to the safety of the bus; 20 minutes later though, he still hadn't even covered half that distance.
Aboard the bus, his Toulon team-mates, nearly all of them global stars, watched in bemusement. Welcome to the world of Jonny Wilkinson.
The former England international is heading into his fifth season in France but continues to be mobbed at every match, mainly by Toulon supporters.
Less than 24 hours later, and 650km away on the Atlantic coast, where Paris club Racing Metro had gone on the road to 'host' Brive, Jonathan Sexton got a glimpse of the sort of pedestal that the French have for world-class out-halves.
He produced a decent performance from open play, featuring some excellent kicking from the hand, but for a player of his stature, some indifferent form off the tee.
It didn't matter, though. The crowd selected him the man of the match and Jonny headed back to base in Paris with a goblet he knew he had no right to win.
But he was relieved to get the first competitive game out of the way after a whirlwind few months with Ireland, Leinster and the Lions, not to mention getting married and heading to Paris in a media frenzy.
"I was obviously very nervous before the game. It's just in a different environment and trying to do things in a different language is difficult," he said.
"But, yeah, in many ways I am delighted just to get the win and get off to some kind of start. We have plenty to work on now going forward."
Sexton is working hard on the language and getting acquainted with his new colleagues and surroundings. It hasn't been easy.
"I am just finishing my third week. Yeah, I know everyone's names – that's not a problem, it's just trying to get the message across at times is tough.
"The calling system is easy because it's always another language anyway. Learning the new words for a calling system is easy but if you want to get someone to do something different, it is hard to explain in the heat of the moment.
"It has been a big learning experience."
Sexton kicked three from six on Saturday on a day when a breeze coming in off the Atlantic did him few favours, but a 100pc record would not have been unexpected.
"I struck the ball well and I struck it well off the ground in the first half. I took one from 50 metres and the wind got it, and took the next one and it didn't get it.
"Sometimes that can happen in difficult conditions and I probably got a little bit quick on the last one after the bang to the head.
"I was a bit disappointed with that after missing a couple, but I have plenty to work on now going forward and I was happy with everything else, other than misjudging the wind a couple of times."
Sexton said that himself and kicking coach Ronan O'Gara have taken to speaking to each other in French in a bid to improve their own grasp of the language, as well as integrate fully.
"We try to. It's hard. The big thing is to try to speak French with the guys. I'm speaking poor-to-average French and they are speaking poor-to-average English back, trying to be nice.
"I am trying to get them to keep speaking French so I get used to it. You want to hear it all the time until you get used to it. The coaches do everything in French, which is good, and I am picking it up slowly but surely.
"The physios are good – they speak French all the time and almost give French lessons when you are getting treated for any little niggle.
"But it's all an experience. I'm sure it will settle down soon in the next few weeks.
"Coming into training in the morning, having Rog here has made things a little bit easier, someone to bounce things off. He is a great go-between for me and the coaches, because he's part of the coaching staff.
"And his experience will be invaluable. Even after today in that breeze he said 'I've had a hundred of those games where you're just hitting them and almost hoping at times'. That's great to have him there," added Sexton.
Sexton set up the opening try for his full-back Benjamin Lapeyre for Racing to lead by 10-5 at the interval.
Brive made a sloppy Racing side battle all the way before Sexton's replacement Jonathan Wisniewski sealed the win with a couple of penalties.
Racing Metro – B Lapeyre; B Fall, H Chavancy, F Estebanez (A Dumoulin 74), V Vakatawa; J Sexton (J Wisniewski 58), M Machenaud (L Magnaval 78); S Tonga'uiha (J Brugnaut 54), D Szarzewski (V Lacombe 56), L Ducalcon (B Mujati 54); K Ghezal, F Van Der Merwe (F Metz 74); D Lydiate, A Battut (B Le Roux 23), J Cronje.
Brive - G Germain; G Namy, A Mignardi, A Mailei (L Ferreres 75), E Radikedike; R Sola, JB Pejoine (D Neveu 54); G Shvelidze (J Coetzee 52), G Rees (F Da Ros 52), P Barnard (T Leupolu 52); J Ledevedec, A Mela; P Hauman, H Briatte, S Koyamaibole (K Murphy 54). Ref – S Attalah.