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Au revoir to Pro12 ghosts

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Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

"OU est le supermarche?" came the timely call from an Ulster supporter.

"That's what I heard for my first kick as well," beamed Jonathan Sexton, from behind a wide smile.

He had earned it from his 14-point contribution to Leinster's 24-18 edge on Ulster in the PRO12 League final.

The ghosts of three successive league final defeats had to be exorcised.

"I think it felt even better than winning a Heineken Cup because to lose four in a row would have been unthinkable. I don't know what we would have done," he said.

 

FAREWELL

Leinster's farewell to friends and three-time failure at the final fence was a powerful tool, matched, even outweighed, by Ulster's need to deliver for themselves and for the family of Nevin Spence.

"Joe spoke about not making this emotional. Then, he turned up and made a pre-match speech where he had a bit of a lump in his throat.

"We started the game pretty well and that told because they had a lot of emotion too, for obvious reasons. We were aware of that.

"They struggled in the first 10 minutes and that was the game really. In a final, 10 points is massive," said Sexton.

By the end, the realisation that this was the last time Sexton would wear the Leinster jersey for two years, at least, hit him hard.

"It was tough to talk to the group. They know how I feel about the thing. I've said I never thought it was going to happen like this," he said, about his transfer to Racing Metro.

"I suppose this team has been everything to me for seven-to-eight years, too much to me at times. Some of them are probably glad to see the back of me. There will be quieter training sessions next year anyway.

"I've got a great adventure ahead of me. I am going to give my all for my new team. I don't want to insult them (Racing). But I also want to let everyone know how much Leinster has meant to me.

"I want to go and give it everything for however many years I am there, hopefully win a few trophies with them."

And there will also be time to reunite with his Ireland team-mates and his new national coach in November. "The president of Racing (Jacky Lorenzetti) was very good. He asked: 'Do you still want to play for your country?'

 

SPECIAL

"I said: 'Yeah, of course I do.' He said he'll do everything he can to accommodate me."

Will Sexton be back in two years? "It is a two-way process. They'll have to want me back. It is a very special place. I love this place.

"I am sure if I was dealing with them (Leinster) alone, I think they rate me. I was disappointed from that point of view (with the IRFU). It is a big adventure for me for however many years I am there.

"Maybe. Maybe I will be back some day, maybe not. Maybe Leinster will go ahead and win another couple of Heineken cups. Another couple of Rabos. You just don't know.

"The good thing about Leinster over the last few years is that we've replaced everyone that has left. Rocky Elsom left, Kevin McLaughlin, Seanie O'Brien came in. Brad Thorn left. Devin Toner has come in and filled his boots.

"I am sure guys will come in and fill the spot that I've had for a few years."

Schmidt has taken many of the accolades for bringing Leinster up to an exalted level in the game. And rightly so.

When club captain Leo Cullen and Sexton were holed up in a hotel with the genial Schmidt for an interview of sorts more than three years ago, Ireland's fly-half came away in some doubt as to the ruthlessness of the man.

"I was very impressed with him. I remember leaving the meeting, saying to Leo, 'This guy is obviously a brilliant coach. But do you reckon he's harsh enough to be a head coach? He seems so nice,'" said Sexton.

"Leo said, 'Well listen, I think he was principal of Auckland Boys School when he was 26 or 27, so I think he'll be alright.'"

In fact, Schmidt taught at Palmerston North Boys' High School, Napier Boys' and was vice-principal at Tauranga Boys' College, where his rapid rise up the education ranks was mirrored by his parallel success in rugby.

 

RUTHLESSNESS

Sexton need not have worried about Schmidt's ruthlessness.

"He turned up and he was harsh enough. He is an outstanding coach, an outstanding person. Everyone wants to play for him. I think that is really special in a coach, to be such a good technical coach and then to have everyone play for you as well."

Schmidt's three-year stay at Leinster has come to an end. There have been 99 matches, 77 wins, 19 losses and three draws which have yielded six finals and four trophies.

Not too bad, 'mon ami'. Not too bad at all.


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