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Sensational Sexton shows his class and composure for Ireland

The 32-year-old was instrumental in the series success in Australia.

Murray Kinsella reports from Sydney

“YOU PROBABLY HATE me but you have to talk to me.”

Another gem for the Johnny Sexton files and a good example of what CJ Stander sees as the Ireland out-half’s ”good mix between being emotional and taking charge of the game.”

With captain Peter O’Mahony down being treated after an aerial challenge by Israel Folau, Sexton stepped up and was straight onto referee Pascal Gaüzère’s case. A yellow card soon followed.

Johnny Sexton celebrates with fans after the game Sexton was brilliant in the second and third Tests. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton has been criticised in the past for his at-times cranky exchanges with match officials but there have been genuinely funny moments in amongst the fiery lashings of the tongue.

There was another classic Sexton moment late in the first Test, with the clock in the red.

Ireland were awarded a penalty and Sexton said to referee Marius van der Westhuizen, “If I kick it out, is it finished? No, I can kick it out?”

The referee responded, “You can kick it out and there will be a lineout.”

Sexton, seemingly annoyed to have been told the laws by the referee even after he asked: “Yeah, I know that.”

Sexton’s understanding of the laws of the game and how rugby works are second to very few.

Witness his sheer anger at the 12th-minute penalty against Ireland on Saturday in Sydney that allowed Bernard Foley to kick the Wallabies’ opening points.

Ireland’s backs were penalised for being offside at a scrum but Sexton vehemently pointed out that the same law applies to the attacking team and Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi was the first to break the required five-metre distance from the scrum before the ball came out.

Sexton so often looks to be in a flow state when he’s playing rugby, his frustration and spikiness being part of a concentrated attempt to do everything he can to help Ireland to win.

Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray celebrate after the game Sexton with halfback partner Conor Murray. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He’s someone who expects everyone to give their best every time,” says Stander of playing with him. “The thing about him, especially in this group, he doesn’t understand when someone doesn’t give 100% and that’s great.

“He takes it from the front, every time. It’s great to come up from a scrum and see your number 10 is making a big hit or he is in the poach position to win the ball. Then he gets up and kicks the three points, he brings a calmness as well.”

Sexton nailed the final Ireland penalty in the 79th minute of the decisive Test on Saturday, showing his coolness soon after being levelled by an immense hit from Kerevi just after the out-half had passed the ball.

He so often takes that kind of punishment and still delivers high-quality ball to his team-mates from close to the gainline.

“He’s an incredible player,” says 21-year-old Jordan Larmour of playing with Sexton.

“He’s probably one of the best in the world, so I am so lucky to get to work with him every day and learn from him, just little things in meetings that he sees that no one else sees.

“On the pitch, little details, minute details, once you get those right they change the game, so it is unbelievable to have him in Leinster and Ireland.”

Having enjoyed a spectacular season with his country and province – almost certainly his best ever – Sexton still had plenty of fuel left in the tank for this tour of Australia, particularly after the uneasy experience of being on the bench in the first Test.

Jordi Murphy, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan celebrate after the game Sexton celebrates in Sydney. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

After Joey Carbery got his valuable exposure, Sexton stepped back into Ireland’s 10 shirt and provided his sensational combination of individual skill, composure, tactical intelligence and leadership.

With Rory Best missing, Sexton combined wonderfully with captain O’Mahony to steer Ireland’s ship to their thrilling series success.

“He’s had some good leadership experience over the last number of years,” says Joe Schmidt of Sexton.

“Paul [O'Connell] shared the leadership duties with him and Drico [Brian O'Driscoll] in the early days. Rory has deferred to Johnny and Pete a lot so it’s something that we feel pretty comfortable about because they’re both really good leaders.

“Pete’s got his head down working pretty hard most of the time so Johnny’s got his head up, running the game and they certainly tag-team anyway. Whether they’re both on or not, they share that responsibility.”

It’s a pity World Rugby don’t announce their player of the year in June because there is little doubt that if the award was handed out right now, Sexton would be among the strongest contenders.

The 32-year-old is enjoying a fine run of health and he continues to deliver in sublime fashion for Ireland. One of the greats.

- Originally published at 06.30

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Murray Kinsella

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