Saturday 7 December 2019

Sexton's Irishplace still safe– Kidney

Disappointed Schmidt accepts Sexton's call

Conor George and David Kelly

DECLAN KIDNEY has rubbished suggestions that Jonathan Sexton's move to Top 14 side Racing Metro will hinder his international career.

The Ireland coach admitted he is disappointed at the decision of his outhalf to leave Ireland and Leinster, but believes that the player will continue to represent his country with pride and distinction.

"You never like to see lads go abroad, but I fully respect it," said Kidney (right).

"Obviously, you want to keep as many players at home as possible. When they are away from home, it affects your access to them and that can affect preparation for the national side.

"It's also a huge help to the provinces to have the international players at home. We live in a professional age and everyone has to make decisions for themselves. And I respect that. That's the age we live in.

"In Jonny's case, he would be a proud Irishman, Leinster man, St Mary's man and that's never going to change. He's playing for Ireland as long as he is maintaining the standards he is playing at – and I see him being able to develop even more – I wouldn't see the move affecting his international career.

"It will put some more pressure on him travelling-wise, but it will open the door for other fellas at home to showcase themselves more. As such, it won't affect him or his Ireland career." That Kidney was pressed on Sexton's proposed move to France in the immediate aftermath of an international fixture did distract from the real business of his presence at the Irish Wolfhounds' defeat to England Saxons last night, which was finalising his Six Nations squad.

"I'm just off a match from Ireland.

The attitude pleased me, the work rate was excellent, especially in the back row. They were under pressure but they worked tirelessly," said Kidney.

"All credit to Luke (Fitzgerald) for coming back. Robbie Henshaw got a tweak in his knee and we had to be careful. Those things pleased me.

"Some guys did put their hand up, some guys got caught out. So when we do the additions, you look at it in a team effort and we will look at it before deciding on the final squad.

"When the team doesn't win, some individuals can have a huge game and those are the guys we need to look out for and pick out." Sexton's departure was the talk of the Sportsground last night – as well as the rest of Irish rugby – but IRFU are confident that there will not be a player drain to France, despite the out-half's decision to join Racing Metro for a €750,000 salary on a two-year contract.

A host of Irish players, including Rob Kearney, Cian Healy and Conor Murray, are currently involved in contract negotiations with the Union, who have been left reeling after Sexton became the biggest earner in Irish rugby history.Both IRFU chief executive Philip Browne and Leinster coach Joe Schmidt have revealed their disappointment at Sexton's decision to leave Ireland after the Union failed with a final offer to retain the high-profile player.

The IRFU are believed to have only offered Sexton a deal which fell below the reputed €450,000 salary currently earned by Ireland's highest-paid player, captain Jamie Heaslip.

"We are very disappointed, as we know the Irish rugby public will be, that Jonny Sexton will not be playing his rugby full-time in Ireland from next season," said Browne.

"Jonny is a major talent and his full-time presence in Ireland will be missed, particularly by Leinster. We wish Jonny continued success and he will receive all the support he needs over the next number of weeks in what we know was a very difficult decision for him.

"While we remained in the fight until the last possible moment to keep Jonny in Ireland, ultimately, following negotiations with the player's agent, we had no option, but to take the decision that it would not be in the best interests of Irish rugby to chase the reported financial incentives being offered."

Leinster coach Schmidt revealed: "Naturally, I'm disappointed. I've really enjoyed Jonny's input and he has added tremendous value to the Leinster environment, both on and off the field.

"The offer he has received is exceptional, even by French standards, but I know that it was still a tough decision for him," he added.

Leinster were dealt another blow yesterday with the news that rising star Andrew Conway has signed a deal with provincial rivals Munster after failing to establish himself with the three-time Heineken Cup champions.

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