Wednesday 18 September 2019

Johnny Sexton: Winning World Rugby Player of the Year is a stick people can beat me with

Jonathan Sexton during Leinster squad training at Energia Park in Donnybrook, Co Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton during Leinster squad training at Energia Park in Donnybrook, Co Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Johnny Sexton is back on the main stage and not a minute too soon.

He has spent the last five weeks in a watching brief as he struggled to overcome a quad injury. That's a long time to mull over a disappointing Six Nations campaign, in which Sexton never really hit his own lofty heights.

The lay-off meant that the out-half didn't get a chance to play himself into form ahead of tomorrow's Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Toulouse, but he has shown in the past that he can hit the ground running.

Such is Sexton's value to both club and country, there is invariably a massive level of scrutiny on his performances.

After a stunning 2017/18 season, it was always going to be tricky to maintain those levels of consistency. Even still, Sexton knew that the spotlight would remain firmly on him.

"It has probably gone to a new level," he said at this afternoon's captain's run at the Aviva Stadium.

"But it is something that I have gotten used to. I have been used to it since I have been in school.

"It's not something I pay too much attention to. I know the facts. I know what actually happened.

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"I am lucky that I am surrounded by coaches that know the game really, really well. I listen to their advice and I try to ignore as much of the noise as I can.

"It is hard to because people want to come up to you in the street and ask you if you are okay. You know it's bad when that's happening.

"It's something that you get used to with experience. I'm looking forward to getting out there tomorrow."

The focus on Sexton has become even more intense since he won world' player of the year' last season, but he dismisses any suggestion that the crown may weigh heavy.

"No, not at all," he insists.

"I said it at the time, that is people's opinion in that moment in time. Obviously 2018 was a special year, but I remember sitting at the table before the awards... My wife (Laura) told me I was very relaxed about it and I said 'If I win it, it's a stick to beat me with, if I don't win it, I don't mind.'

"It's people's opinion. I would much rather win a trophy because you guys can't sit there and say 'Leinster haven't won four stars, four European Cups.'

"But we have and you can't take that away. But you can argue about whether someone is playing well or someone is not playing well.

"You can all have your opinions about that, but you can't take away trophies and that is why I love being here and trying to win competitions because that doesn't get taken away from you."

Sexton is in good form, which can only bode well ahead of the mouthwatering clash with Toulouse.

Earlier this week, the Leinster skipper spent time with renowned kicking coach Dave Alred. The pair have worked together for most of Sexton's career and those extra sessions behind the scenes have helped get him back into a position where he believes he can rediscover his best form.

"I’ve worked with him since I was 22," Sexton says of Alred.

"He always comes over and when he is available I always take him, because he is brilliant. He tries to make himself available for these type of games. Hopefully I get to keep working with him for the foreseeable future.

"I am happy to have got the issues sorted out with my leg.

"Of course it has been really frustrating. You never want to be injured.

"I suppose you have to take the positives. It was a chance for me to get my issues sorted out fully and fully resolved.

"It was probably a good time for me to get away and have a break and come back feeling refreshed. I'm in a good place now and hopefully I can put that out on the pitch tomorrow."

Leo Cullen confirmed that Jamison Gibson-Park will miss tomorrow's semi-final with a hamstring injury, while Andrew Porter is also unavailable having picked up a pectoral related issue in training last week. Neither are understood to be serious injuries. 

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