Thursday 21 June 2018

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'I was calling Irish plays, Ben Te'o hadn't a clue' - Johnny Sexton

Ireland out-half Johnny Sexton Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Ireland out-half Johnny Sexton Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Switching from the heights of international rugby to the rough and tumble of provincial action is not an easy thing to do, according to Leinster match-winner Johnny Sexton.

The Ireland out-half scored all of his side's points in an impressive individual display at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, but he revealed after the game that he was still muddling through the post-Six Nations period and even confused his non-Ireland team-mates by calling some of the plays designed by Joe Schmidt during Saturday's win over Munster.

"We play differently for our province than we do for our country and that's half the challenge to get back into the system," he explained.

"At times I was shouting Irish plays and Ben Te'o didn't have a clue what I was talking about and Garry (Ringrose) had half an idea because he was in camp training with us.

"It's hard to get out of that Irish mindset and into the systems here, as hard as you try and as much work as you do off the pitch, it sneaks back in there."

Sexton was replying to a query about CJ Stander's display, with the suggestion that the Munster captain had had a quieter day than those he'd enjoyed on his outings in green at the Aviva Stadium in recent months.

"Did he?" Sexton replied. "It didn't feel like it when he was running at me!

"Look, CJ has been outstanding for Ireland and it's always tough when you come off such a big thing.

"I found after the World Cup, you're playing in front of 80,000 people, in front of crazy Irish supporters, the biggest tournament you've ever played in and suddenly you're back and even though you're playing Champions Cup it's a big step down and it's not as… I don't know how to describe it, it's just not the feeling you had when you play those games (for Ireland).

"He's in those positions now where he's played those massive games for Ireland which are huge occasions for him. Now he's back and it's tough to get back up for it at times. I thought he was good at times."

It's been a hectic period for Sexton who welcomed a new arrival to his family as the Six Nations got going as his wife Laura gave birth to a baby girl and, while he'd prefer to be in European action this weekend, Leinster's absence from the quarter-finals means he can take a rare week off to recharge his batteries.

The 30-year-old only took part in two training sessions between the Scotland game and Saturday's win and hopes to be fresh for the remaining games in Leinster's season as they search for the Pro12 title.

"It has been intense. We've got a proper week off now where we've been told to get away and don't even think about rugby so I'm looking forward to that," he said.

"It's been full on in every game that I've played in in the last two months, they've been huge games, must-wins.

"Obviously we'd have liked to have come out and had a better Six Nations. That's disappointing, but every week there is something to play for.

"Now, I'm looking forward to a bit of a break and rejuvenating and then having a big end to the season in blue and hopefully getting on that plane to South Africa."

Summit

Saturday's win saw Leinster rise to the summit of the Pro12, ahead of Connacht because they have won one more game than their neighbours.

The Scarlets' defeat to Cardiff means the top two are five points clear of the Welsh side and a home semi-final looks within Leo Cullen's side's range.

"Our goal is to finish in the top two," Sexton said.

"If you do that, you can sit down and say, 'right lads, we're here now, we've got a big semi-final'.

"If that's at home, you go for it. There are no easy games in the league with the new format.

"You saw Scarlets losing to Cardiff because they still have a sniff of the Champions Cup.

"Edinburgh are trying to make it into that top six when they come here, Treviso are trying to finish ahead of Zebre. They're all tough games to come and we've another big interpro. We're by no means there.

"We honestly don't sit down and say (we're going to win the league). We used to when (Michael) Cheika was there. He was mad. He'd have pictures of the trophies up all around the place.

"We've changed a lot. It was probably Joe's influence of trying to do your best every day, not looking too far ahead, trying to build week-on-week.

"We're on track, I suppose, in the league. We let ourselves down in Europe. Hopefully, we'll take some lesson out of that for next season."

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