Sport Rugby

Sunday 25 February 2018

Sexton keen to underline team spirit

David Kelly

David Kelly

JONATHAN SEXTON has achieved so much in one year, yet he's still a guy in an immense hurry. A Heineken Cup and an Ireland debut have failed to sate someone who this time last year thought his Leinster days were behind him.

History will record that injury opened the door to what would become an annus mirabilis. And yet just as he reached the pinnacle of his career to date, in the penultimate play of the titanic win against world champions South Africa, he too succumbed to fateful injury.

Amid the fervour of that exultant Croke Park day, Sexton barely contemplated the thought that his hand may be broken. It was, and he has not played in the six weeks since.

Understandably, impatience has tugged at his sleeve, Leinster's recent inactivity fuelling his frustration as much as the cautious counsel of the medics.

"Yeah, the medical staff and the fitness staff are unbelievable here," he enthused yesterday, his once broken hand severely tested by a slew of congratulations as he sashayed through Leinster HQ.

"It is not the most severe injury, only two fractured bones in the hand," he demurs. "So it's so annoying being 100pc fit in every other aspect and not being able to play because of a small fracture.

"After four weeks I felt that the fracture had started to heal.

"I felt after four weeks maybe I could have played and I was dying to play, but the doctors had said there's no point -- if you get a bang, you might need an operation, so it was best just to leave it and I'm delighted I did now in hindsight because it's 100pc right."

His keenness to return is understandable. Leinster's Heineken Cup chances careered onwards and upwards without him.

The wheels don't stop turning. And, with his jittery thoughts flitting towards the resumption of international hostilities, nervous eyes alighted on Ronan O'Gara's steady rehabilitation and Ian Humphreys' pervasive prominence.

"I can't go out and try and force it," admits Sexton, who at 24 is all at once a veteran yet still a fledgling talent on the grand stage.

"I have been watching the other games and am aware of how well Ronan O'Gara is playing and the other out-halves in the other provinces.

"The danger for me now is about trying to go out and do everything myself, to put a marker down. If I can go out and play well and do the basics well, then Leinster will get the right result.

"If I make my decisions around the team, we'll play well. Obviously I still want to put down a little marker and get back to good form quickly, but I can't be thinking about that.

"It's about going on and trying to play myself into the game early and see how it goes from there."

Sexton's maturity should be sufficiently honed to inure him against such drastic ploys; yet it was only 14 or so months ago when he did exactly the same thing in order to boldly impress the Leinster coaches.

His misplaced enthusiasm backfired and he slipped alarmingly down the Leinster pecking order, at one stage contemplating a move away from the province. A short time later, he was their hero.

This Saturday will mark his 50th cap, a statistic that shields a surfeit of Kipling's twin impostors.

"I didn't know it was 50," he said, as genuinely surprised as the many amateur veterans who completed productive careers without reaching such a total. "This time last year I would not have thought that I would get to 50 games for Leinster.

"It's a nice little milestone to get to and I would hope to get a lot further than that. I want to spend a good few more years in Leinster. If I start on Saturday it'll be a little bit extra special. There are lads now reaching 100 caps and they are the same age as me so I'm still a bit behind."

Sexton's injury was of the freakish variety, not necessarily caused by impact but more of a twist in the tackle, causing the break at his knuckles.

"I knew there was something wrong with it," he recalls. "I didn't think it would be broken, I thought it had taken a bang and was bruised maybe. I didn't know at the time that I did like that, it wasn't until I looked at the video."

Adrenalin nursed him through those elated final moments. "There was only one play left so it was just a case of getting through that. It was fine, it wasn't sore, it was fine."

He treated the time off as another pre-season, benefiting from extra fitness work. Mentally and physically, Ireland's newest rugby superstar is now eager for the fray.

"It was frustrating with the game being called off last week. At the start of last week I felt rusty at best and now I feel a lot more confident going into this game.

"The extra week has probably done me good. I feel fresh, I feel like I am starting a new season which is probably a good thing halfway through a season. I have no bangs and no strains and they are the positives I am taking out of it."

He has no need for haste. The experience of the past year will have taught him that.

Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors are in line to receive £15,000 in compensation from the Celtic League after last Saturday's postponed game with Leinster.

Following the cancellation, the squad, who had arrived in Dublin on Thursday, were forced off two flights before reaching Glasgow via two buses and a ferry in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Irish Independent

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