'In terms of the captaincy, it seems we're not so quick to see how good Johnny has become'

Former Ireland captain Rory Best is confident his successor, Johnny Sexton, will bounce back.

FORMER IRELAND CAPTAIN Rory Best is confident his successor, Johnny Sexton, will bounce back following criticism of his performance against England and questions as to whether the out-half should be leading the national team.

Sexton’s role as captain has come under scrutiny in the wake of Ireland’s defeat in Twickenham two weekends ago, with former Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara saying he’s not a fan of Sexton taking on the captaincy as well as all of his other responsibilities within the team.

a-disappointed-johnny-sexton-after-the-game-2322020 Sexton and Ireland had a bad day at Twickenham last time out. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Best finished his time as Ireland captain with last year’s World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of New Zealand, but had previously enjoyed major success in the role, including leading Joe Schmidt’s team to a Grand Slam in 2018.

Speaking this week as he launched his new book Rory Best: My Autobiography, the former Ulster hooker said he’s not surprised that 34-year-old Sexton has been criticised following Ireland’s loss in London.

“Most captains’ captaincy style is to lead by example and whenever you have a bad game, I think you carry it more yourself than anything that’s written,” said Best.

“I know Johnny will be more annoyed than anyone because you want to perform to your best because that’s ultimately the best way to rally your troops and it didn’t quite go like that for him.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s in for criticism because whenever the team doesn’t go well, people like to pick on the captain. Johnny is one of those people that people love to put on a pedestal because he’s a class player.

“In terms of the captaincy, it seems we’re not so quick to see how good Johnny has become.”

Best believes that Sexton’s growth as a captain over the past year or so has been overlooked.

Sexton took over as Leinster skipper upon Isa Nacewa’s retirement in the summer 2018, concluding that first season by helping his province to a Pro14 title and a Champions Cup final.

Sexton himself has admitted to learning a huge amount as a captain from Leinster’s defeat to Munster in Thomond Park in December 2018, when he admitted he had dealt with referee Frank Murphy too aggressively.

Best feels that Sexton has grown since that day. 

jonathan-sexton-celebrates-scoring-their-second-try-with-rory-best Best and Sexton in Ireland colours together last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Everyone’s quick to reflect back to that Munster game in Thomond Park but when you’ve watched him captain since – everyone makes a mistake or has a bit of an eruption that he had that day – but you have to allow them to have that and to be better for it,” said Best.

“I haven’t seen that from Johnny since then and if you lead a team, and Leinster have some very good individuals, but he led them into a European final they definitely could have won and then they won the Pro14 final. If you can lead and channel all those people together, you’re doing something right.

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“He’s maturing into a very good captain and to judge it solely on the England game… when things you against you in Twickenham…

“It was a similar game to last August there [when Ireland were hammered 57-15 in a World Cup warm-up game], but with 20 minutes left we threw in the towel that day whereas Johnny and these boys rolled up their sleeves and tried to get a point out of it, and they nearly did.

“They dug in and that comes from a mentality within the squad, that comes from the captain a bit.”

Best points to how Sexton dealt with referee Romain Poite during Ireland’s win over Wales as an example of how the Leinster man has developed as a captain.

Best has no doubt that Sexton will respond with a strong performance when he gets back on the pitch, although the 37-year-old admitted that it will be a tough weekend for the out-half and his team-mates with their game against Italy postponed.

“To lose the middle game of the Six Nations is always difficult because all you want to do is play the next week and instead there’s a break,” said Best.

“Now the Italy game being postponed, they have three weeks and it’s a long time to be stewing. For Johnny, it will have been about setting an example in training and what they can do to be better from the England game. The captain needs his senior players to step up too.”

Rory Best will be signing copies of his new book – which is published in hardback by Hodder – in Easons on O’Connell St in Dublin on Saturday 7 March at 10am and Easons in Belfast on Sunday 8 March at 1.30pm.

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