Johnny Sexton likely to avoid any World Cup ramifications for role in tunnel row

Johnny Sexton after the Champions Cup final between Leinster and La Rochelle. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Johnny Sexton must anxiously await the report of Champions Cup final referee Jaco Peyper to see if he’ll face any repercussions for his role in the half-time set-to in the Aviva Stadium tunnel.

The Leinster and Ireland captain, who missed the game through injury, was seen remonstrating with the South African official at full-time of La Rochelle’s 27-26 win over the Irish province, who led 17-0 after 12 minutes.

The bad blood simmered long after the end of an epic final, with La Rochelle captain Greg Alldritt accusing James Ryan of disrespecting him, while coach Ronan O’Gara said his club were treated like “a small team” by the organisers and claimed the behaviour of a small number of Leinster supporters had “sparked up our boys for battle”.

Things boiled over at half-time, with a confrontation outside the referee’s room which is located beside the Leinster dressing room.

It is understood that members of the Leinster backroom team, including Seán O’Brien and Sexton, intercepted O’Gara, who had spoken to referee Wayne Barnes at half-time of the 2022 final between the teams in Marseille.

Tempers frayed and others, including Will Skelton, are believed to have gotten involved before the teams made their way to the dressing rooms.

Tournament organisers EPCR will decide in the coming days if any action will be taken and much will depend on Peyper’s report.

Sexton will be hoping that nothing comes of it, which appears the most likely outcome at this remove, because he has the most to lose if bans are handed out. He is due to return to training with Ireland when they begin their pre-World Cup camp on June 19 and would be loathe to miss any of their warm-up games through suspension.

Accusations of disrespect from Ryan to Alldritt have been dismissed out of hand by two sources who were present at the coin toss and said nothing untoward happened. The France No 8, who won man of the match in the final and European Player of the Year, said the Ireland lock had not made eye contact with him during the handshake.

“From the toss, already, we were not respected. He didn’t look me in the eye when he shook my hand. And that should not be done. There are a lot of values in our club and respect is one of them,” Alldritt said.

O’Gara backed his captain, saying: “I got word of it down on the pitch. Obviously, I have a close relationship with my captain. A bizarre action when they were going for the toss.

“Normally you engage eyes and no eyes were engaged. Greg was disappointed and let down.

“There was a little bit of that in terms of . . . obviously, Leinster were the home team in terms of accommodation for the families and post-match gigs.

“I think we’re in Lansdowne, we couldn’t get a room in this place. It’s disappointing on that front but we’ve got to accept that we’re seen as the little time, but that’s about to change.”

Ronan O'Gara claims there was a lack of respect following La Rochelle's Champions Cup victory

Leinster and EPCR deny the idea that La Rochelle were treated any different to Leo Cullen’s side – by receiving the same number of tickets for family and hosting their own post-match function off-site at the RDS.

For Leinster, it is back to the drawing board after a third final defeat in five years and a third successive loss to O’Gara’s La Rochelle. Having lost to Munster in the URC semi-final, their season is over and Cullen said they would bounce back.

“I understand how hard it is, making sure you have that constant focus in terms of the habits we deliver day-to-day and when you get to this big stage that you’re able to nail those opportunities.

“But it’s hard. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not like you just turn up and someone’s going to hand it to you. It’s going to be hard but that’s the challenge isn’t it? You have to be putting yourself in that situation again.

“But it’s not easy. It’s going to be a challenge but I think our guys, there’s a really good crop of players there, they just have to keep believing in themselves.”