Friday 24 November 2017

Frustrated Sexton eager to take back Leinster kicking tee

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

He may have returned from injury with a bang, but Jonny Sexton is still finding things frustrating this season, and you sense he won't be entirely comfortable until he has reclaimed the goal-kicking reponsibilities at Leinster.

The Ireland out-half injured his calf muscle while practising his marksmanship ahead of the home match with Cardiff last month, ruling him out for three weeks and forcing him to start on the bench in the key clash with Munster.

Since coming on as a second-half substitute at the Aviva Stadium that night, the St Mary's man has masterminded some stunning play in the backline, but Isa Nacewa has been kicking the goals.

Others might revel in having the pressure taken off their shoulders, but not Sexton, who is not enjoying watching the Fiji international do his job for him.

"I probably wasn't that happy about it," he said ahead of the Wembley clash with Saracens. "Hopefully I'll get a good few days' kicking this week, and hopefully I'll be there to take them on Saturday.

"You become used to kicking and you want to do it. In many ways, it's strange not doing it because, when you get a few kicks, it gets you into the game. It was a joint decision to leave it for last week and give the quad an extra few days.

"It's feeling quite good now and I'll be there to take them this week, if needed. I was kicking at the end of last week in training. Joe (Schmidt) just said to be sensible with it and the most important thing at the moment is that I'm getting time on the pitch.

"The last thing that we need to be doing is keeping this injury an ongoing thing. We need to get it 100pc right, so that once I start kicking again, it's not a problem for the rest of the season.

"The injury is gone now, but it's just about managing it and strengthening it up, and easing myself back into the kicking, and not going out and giving it a twinge again, and missing the game."

Talk to most of the Leinster squad this week and Wembley is never far from their minds. The 90,000-seater stadium is iconic for many reasons and it has certainly captured the imagination of the squad.

But as the consummate professional, Sexton is already weighing up the angles and assessing the impacts that a venue built for soccer will have on his kicking game.

Leinster will get a chance to train on the pitch on Friday ahead of Saturday's evening kick-off at a venue where Saracens have never lost a match. And Sexton says it is vital that he can get used to the dimensions quickly.

"From a kicker's point of view, the stands are quite far away from the touchline -- as far as I know," he said. "I haven't been there myself.

"It will be a bit like Croke Park: you've just got to get your bearings and have a kick-around there on Friday.

"I suppose it's difficult for a kicker when the touchlines are so far away from the stand, rather than when they're nice and tight to it, but I'm sure we'll get used to it after one run-out. I suppose having played in Croke Park will stand to you when you play in such a big stadium.


"It's going to be a strange one, but Joe said it this morning, it's going to be our only chance to play there. It's important we go out and try to make a good memory of it and have some fond memories of going there."

A student of the game, Sexton is keenly aware of the challenge Leinster face against a Sarries side packed with international talent -- much of it from South Africa.

The English side lost their opener at Clermont but Leinster's pivot is in no doubt that the hosts will be in the mood to bounce back on Saturday.

"They gifted Clermont two tries and butchered one of their own," he explained. "They missed a couple of kicks, so in many ways they had the beating of Clermont in France, which is a huge thing to do. They are going to be a good side.

"As the coaches say, if you win your games you go through. You take one game at a time and this week is going to be one of our toughest in the pool. Saracens looked quite good at the weekend, even though they got nothing out of the game."

Irish Independent

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