Saturday 24 February 2018

Sexton backed to shrug off World Cup woe and hit peak form in derby

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

JONATHAN Sexton may have suffered a loss of kicking form and a dip in confidence at the World Cup, but Leinster kicking guru Richie Murphy believes he will be back to his best tomorrow night.

The 26-year-old faces Ronan O'Gara -- the man who took the Ireland No 10 jersey off him in New Zealand -- at Lansdowne Road and many will feel he has a point to prove.

Sexton missed seven out of his 11 kicks at goal in the opening two games and was relegated to the bench for the next three games.

But he returned to the blue jersey last Friday and impressed in a 36-28 win over Edinburgh, landing seven out of nine attempts in windy conditions.

And while Murphy acknowledges that the World Cup didn't go to plan, he reckons that there will be no long-term damage to Sexton's confidence.

"Obviously, he didn't have the World Cup he wanted, but there was no sign of that since he came back," Murphy said. "He's been fantastic. Possibly, there was a little bit of doubt in his mind over there. I don't think his confidence has taken a dent though.

"Since he's come back he's been working hard, but no harder than he would have had he been at 100pc over there. He's fine and I have no doubt he will bring it on Friday night."


Meanwhile, Shane Jennings reckons that the back-row options available to Joe Schmidt are the strongest they've been over the past decade at Leinster.

The Ireland openside is expected to start against Munster, but while he, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip were in New Zealand, Dominic Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Kevin McLaughlin, Jordi Murphy and Leo Auva'a shone as the second string kept the show on the road.

It means that the World Cup players have had to be on their toes since returning, and Jennings agrees the competition for places is more savage than ever before.

"I would have thought so, yeah," he said. "Over the years we might have had three or four good back-row players, but now we seem to have six or seven really good players.

"You saw the lads playing for the last couple of weeks and the results they got. When I was their age and you got a run, you got a licking over in Cardiff and got beaten wherever you went.

"With these lads, it doesn't happen. It puts pressure on everybody to play well.

"They have a great attitude, they don't get ahead of themselves and they are always asking questions and giving suggestions."

Leinster have confirmed that ticket sales have passed 45,000 for tomorrow night's derby.

Irish Independent

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