Sunday 21 October 2018

'I still think I can get better' – Johnny Sexton aiming to hit new heights

Sexton is aiming to hit new heights for club and country

Leinster and Ireland out-half Johnny Sexton in his role as an Aer Lingus ambassador in Castleknock yesterday. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Leinster and Ireland out-half Johnny Sexton in his role as an Aer Lingus ambassador in Castleknock yesterday. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Captaincy is not something Johnny Sexton has sought at Leinster, but judging by his performances in recent weeks it certainly suits him.

Isa Nacewa's injury problems have opened a door and the Ireland out-half has stepped up to the plate, leading his side brilliantly against Munster and Glasgow Warriors.

Given the nature of his position, he has long been a leader for Leinster and Ireland and he says that he hasn't done much differently when acting as skipper.

And yet, the cap has fit so snugly it has been suggested that he is a prime contender to take over the role on a permanent basis for club and country.

It is not a suggestion he is willing to entertain.

"I don't know," he said yesterday. "The captaincy is something that is offered to you.

"A lot of the time it is voted by the guys in Leinster. Isa is captain of Leinster this year and he is a great captain and obviously I have been asked to do it while he has been out, doing it temporarily, and I have enjoyed it.

"I don't know if that is why I'm playing well. There is other factors that go into that. The fact that we are playing well as a team, we have had a year together now, there's a lot of those younger guys coming through are stepping up as well.

Different

"I am not doing too much different to what I would do anyway. It's something I have been trying to work on anyway, trying to deal with the officials in the right way and to be better at that.

"But you know I always go into the game with the best intentions but when you are in the heat of the game you can let things slip a bit, but it is something I have been working on.

"At times I have been decent at it, other times not so good but I'm getting there."

Rory Best looks set to lead the country into the November series, but at 35 there have been questions about his longevity and Sexton's importance to the team and leadership skills have seen him touted as a possible successor.

Again, he's not entertaining the notion.

"It's not something I want to talk about too much. It's not something I want to promote myself for," he said.

"It's something that is voted by your peers or the management and it's something that is an honour that is offered to you or not offered to you.

"Rory is doing a fantastic job over the last while since Paul (O'Connell) has retired.

"I am sure he will continue to do a great job over this season and beyond."

Although he finished the domestic season in somewhat ropey form last year, Sexton recovered to become a key player as the Lions tied the series with New Zealand last summer.

He has carried that form into this season but he says he still has room to improve.

"There are lots of young guys coming through that will want to be playing No 10 for Leinster and Ireland and, you know when you are in that position you have to have a different mentality about it," the Aer Lingus ambassador said.

"I think I can get better and that is how I have always been. I'd like to think that is how I have been as years have gone on and if I am not doing it I will step away.

"I can improve a lot and that's my motivation, to be the best. If someone comes along that is better and takes the jersey away then fair play to them.

"I try and prepare as best I can for all the games that I play.

"Sometimes it goes well and other times it doesn't go so well, despite doing the same preparation every time.

"Playing out-half, you can prepare as well as you can, but because you rely on so much, the guys in front of you, the guy giving you information outside you, the guy passing you the ball, everything counts.

"That is why you have to be hard on guys because you know that, at the end of the day, they help you play well.

"They are a large part of the reason why you do play well.

"That's why you try and drive things. But, then you've got to find a balance in how you do that and how you can do it better.

"You try to get better all the time in every area of the game."

Sexton has already spoken about the Lions tour as "a missed opportunity", but since he last gave an interview his colleague Sean O'Brien came out with his explosive comments on the team's preparation for the first and last Tests and the backline coaching of Rob Howley.

"A lot of the stuff Sean said, he would have said in the rugby environment," he said.

"It's pretty harsh, it's pretty open. A lot of those things he said - bar the one or two he feels were misinterpreted - he would have said at the time.

"I was in meetings where he spoke up and said that he felt that we got this wrong, he said it to the coaches.

"There were a couple of things that he felt were misinterpreted, how he wanted to say them.

"Sean had the best interest (of the Lions) at heart.

"Anyone who saw him playing the games would have seen how much playing for the Lions meant to him and he didn't mean to sort of go against the tradition or anything.

"He was just trying to explain what he felt could be improved and as a player you've got to admire him for that.

"I think it's all sorted now."

Irish Independent

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