Saturday 21 September 2019

'The way I look at it, I've been lucky with injuries' - Johnny Sexton

Sexton reckons his best form lies ahead if he can overcome niggles

Now that he’s got a game under his belt, Johnny Sexton believes he will have more to offer Ireland’s cause against Wales. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Now that he’s got a game under his belt, Johnny Sexton believes he will have more to offer Ireland’s cause against Wales. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It was a private moment of release set against the most public back-drops: 52,000 people in the stadium and the millions of viewers watched as the most talked-about legs in Ireland sent an impromptu drop-goal over the posts and into the South Stand.

For a moment, Johnny Sexton forgot himself as the countless hours in the Santry Sports Surgery Clinic where he rehabilitated his hamstrings and the subsequent efforts to get over his calf problems disappeared over the bar.

He let a roar. He pumped his fist. The Aviva Stadium rose to acclaim him. He was back.

Of course, the perfectionist can't even allow himself that one moment in the cold light of a Monday morning back at the same venue.

A much smaller army of around 3,200 fans watched as the out-half took part in only his third full training session since returning from the latest injury.

On reflection, he appears to regret the outward show of emotion, but no-one would begrudge him the moment.

"There's a lot of frustration built up having watched over the last few weeks and I was just delighted to be back out there," he said of the drop-goal.

Pumped up

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

"Sometimes you celebrate things and you regret doing it, you're pumped up in the heat of the moments and you want to show the people who are here how much it means to you to play for Ireland.

"I'd missed playing for Ireland over the last few weeks and the Australia game in November, so I just wanted to show how much it meant."

His has been a disrupted campaign, with glimpses of his brilliance interrupted by news of injuries.

Having missed the South Africa tour in June with a dislocated shoulder, his return was disrupted by a hamstring problem. He came back from that only to injure the other hamstring playing against New Zealand in Dublin.

This time, the IRFU sent him to Santry to get to the root of the problem. He came back strong, but then he risked a bruised calf against Castres last month and it cost him the first two games of the Six Nations.

"There's no-one more frustrated and upset (than me) when I'm injured," he told TV3. "It was a really difficult time after all the time and hard work I'd done before Christmas, but you get stronger with these things. You find out about a lot of people around you, you find out a lot about yourself.

"It's important to just bounce back, it's just one of those set-backs. I'm sure I'll have more injuries in my career, it's just the nature of the game and I'll do everything I can now to remain as fit as possible.

"I did a lot of work before Christmas when I took that time off, my body felt as good as it has done in years and I sort of undid it in Castres by carrying that knock into the game stupidly and it went.

"So, it was really disappointing but I felt under pressure to get back for that game, because I wanted a run of games coming into the Six Nations. It's a tough decision, but one that I learnt from."

Sexton knows that his injury history is a topic of conversation across the country but he feels that he is one of the luckier rugby players.

"There's some injuries you just can't do anything about. I dislocated my shoulder in the Guinness Pro12 final and you can't do anything about that, it was just impact," he said.

"I've had injuries like that, a broken arm, a broken jaw that you can't do anything about but it's just the small niggles that frustrate me.

"I spent a lot of time in Santry, six weeks before Christmas to try and make sure that I found out the reason why I was picking those up and I felt like I did. I just played on a bad haematoma in my calf against Castres and paid the price for it. You live and learn.

"It's unfortunate in many ways that if I get injured it is in the papers. There's guys around me in Leinster who are injured and haven't played for two years, it's been one injury after another and that puts me in perspective.

"The way I look at it I've been very lucky with injuries. I've never had a nine-month injury, and some guys have four nine-month injuries.

"I think the longest I've ever been out is that shoulder injury at the end of last season and then when you come back from that, I was probably moving badly and carrying the shoulder still and I got a couple of hamstring niggles and then the calf.

"I feel very fortunate. I am surrounded by guys who have had their career cut short by injury, they've had nine-months, a year out of the game or have retired at 24 or 25. I look at it a different way."

Now that he's fit, he is looking forward to the remaining Six Nations games with confidence and he reckons there's a lot more to come from him.

"I think so," he said when asked if the best was yet to come. "It's not for me to sort of say that. It's for you guys to write about and I'll just try to do my best on the pitch.

"I hope the period I've been through will make me stronger and hopefully I can get a string of games now and hopefully I'll hit my best form. I feel I'm on the verge of hitting good form but I've been stopped by a couple of niggles and I'm over that now.

"We're second and it's very much in our own hands. We have to go to Cardiff and we realise how difficult it's going to be."

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport