Friday 24 January 2020

Johnny Sexton: 'I have been described as chasing the money'

The Leinster star says he is probably the hungriest he's ever been coming back off an injury, writes Niamh Horan

Jonathan Sexton of Leinster
Jonathan Sexton of Leinster
Johnny Sexton in action Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Leinster and Ireland star Johnny Sexton has dismissed concerns that the 'bulking up' of players is causing rugby to become more dangerous.

The rugby star, who sustained four concussions in 2014 alone, was speaking after Munster's Jack O'Donoghue became the latest Irish player to suffer a clash to the head, that saw him stretchered off the pitch less than 15 minutes after kick off against Edinburgh in Thomond Park last Saturday week.

Super trooper: Leinster and Ireland outhalf Johnny Sexton speaking to Niamh Horan about his rugby career Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Super trooper: Leinster and Ireland outhalf Johnny Sexton speaking to Niamh Horan about his rugby career Photo: Frank Mc Grath

His comments come as an Irish sports clinic conducts one of the first comprehensive studies in the world on concussions sustained during rugby matches.

Speaking about the phenomenon, Sexton described it as a natural evolution.

"It's the natural progression for the sport. Everyone is trying to get better and get an edge. You are trying to get bigger, faster, stronger. But everyone is. So it is not becoming more dangerous because the smaller guys are getting bigger, faster and stronger too. I am not too worried about it. To be honest I think it's gone the other way - because they are doing so much now to clean the game up.

"You can't get away with anything on the pitch these days without a ban."

Asked about the risk of injury or loss of life in rugby, he said: "There are lots of sports where that is the case. That is the case in everyday life. I read the story about the rower who was celebrating after the world championships who fell and hurt herself and died. That can happen in life. Obviously rugby is a contact sport but there are a lot of contact sports out there."

However, Sexton said his wife would be "anxious" and other family members would have concerns over potential injuries: "My mom would be very worried before any game. But it's just the nature of contact sport."

He added: "You always have worries but they are doing everything possible within the game. There are governing bodies to make sure that it's as safe as possible.

"I have been very lucky with injuries during my career so hopefully it will keep going like that. I haven't gotten any really serious injuries," he said.

Although his four-year deal with Leinster is rumoured to be worth €500,000 a year, the man Brian O'Driscoll once called 'the best player in the world' during the 2015 Six Nations campaign, also described the tougher side of the job.

"The injuries and the doubts that come with injuries, coming back from injuries and then obviously the criticism when you are going through bad form. That can be tough."

He explained: "Of course in an ideal world everyone would appreciate your efforts but you're in an environment where you get criticised for your performance and you learn to live with it and I suppose I try to stay away from as much of it as possible.

"It's part of being a professional athlete. I know I am very lucky to do what I do."

Johnny was speaking at the launch of Super Troopers, Ireland's first Health Homework programme to promote physical activity among primary school children nationwide.

The number 10 also addressed criticism that his move to Racing was motivated by money.

"I have been described as chasing the money. Obviously it's a professional sport and that was one side of it so it's a balance [but] it's not a motivational factor for me. It's about making the most of my career and I know that at the end of my career - whenever that is - I want to be able to look back and say that I gave it all and that I achieved a lot and that I was a good team mate."

Explaining why he returned to his former club, he said: "It was a combination of factors. I want to be in the best environment possible. With Leinster and the IRFU, I am looked after there, that was one side.

He went on: "It was very difficult when I was in Paris, playing international rugby one week and then the next week having to go and play for Racing and then come back and play another international game.

"I was being dragged here and there. Whereas when you are in Leinster you get rested and then you have an international game."

Johnny, who has two young children with wife Laura, says his personal life played another part in his decision: "We lived in Paris and then we had a kid there and just wanting to come home and have our family brought up here around the rest of our family. I wanted the kids to be around their grandparents, so that was definitely part of it too."

Speaking about his future with Leinster he said, "I am probably the hungriest I have ever been. Probably off the back of that injury. I want to achieve more. I have always been like that.

"I don't know where it comes from but - even though I have won three Heineken Cups with Leinster, for example - I want to win another major title. I think it would be more special to do it now with this group of players because we are building a new team so that would be really special."

Sunday Independent

The Left Wing: Schools rugby special - 'The St Michael’s dream team are the side to beat'

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport