Sport Rugby

Friday 20 April 2018

Relentless slog of Top 14 no place for Ireland’s key figure

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

JONATHAN SEXTON worked his socks off to get to where he is today, serving his time, taking the knocks and finally earning his place at the top of the Irish rugby tree.

He has endured enough along the way to appreciate his position as the finest out-half in Europe, the leading contender for the Lions No 10 jersey and the undisputed starter for Leinster and Ireland.

When Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Rory Best were ruled out of the November Tests, the fly-half was one of two contenders for the captaincy.

Jamie Heaslip may have gotten the nod, but Sexton is clearly to the forefront of the leadership core that Declan Kidney is building as he works towards the World Cup in 2015.

Level-headed, grounded and at the top of his game, Sexton could not be in a better place than home.

So, having worked so hard to get to this position of obvious strength, why would he up sticks and move to Racing Metro?

Well, the money would be better than what the IRFU are offering, while the Paris lifestyle must appeal.

After winning three Heineken Cups in four years, Sexton has proven all he can at Leinster and a new challenge at an ambitious club might be just up his street, in a league that is increasingly filling with 'Galacticos' like Bryan Habana, who has just signed for Toulon.

There may not be much grass in Paris, but from where Sexton sits, it must appear pretty green.

Yet, there is also a sense of unfinished business for a man who has worn the Irish jersey with distinction, but has yet to achieve anything other than one-off wins for Ireland.

Having made his debut in November 2009, the Rathfarnham native has spent much of his international career helping to manage a period of transition.

Having put so much into that process, it would be disappointing to leave before the job is done, especially as his involvement would be severely curtailed by playing in France.

If he moved, his ability to show up for Ireland duty would be severely hampered, and, while Sexton admitted his frustration at being rested over Christmas and may fancy an extended run of games, he should look at his would-be rival at Racing, Juan-Martin Hernandez (who signed a three-year contract extension last April) as an example of how the week-in, week-out relentlessness of the French game can take the legs out from under a great career.

Playing in the Top 14 means a minimum of 32 club games a season, with a maximum of 38, whereas Sexton played 16 times for Leinster last season. He might like to play more, but his long-term health is better served in Ireland for now.

If he does want to sample life in another league, the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup would appear a more opportune time to go.

At 27, Sexton has built his castle here and surely he should sign on the dotted line and live in it for a while.

Conquering the world from Ireland should be his first goal, then he can go and see it.

Irish Independent

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