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'I want to play for as long as I can because I love what I do' - Sexton

34-year-old Johnny Sexton is excited to have taken on the Ireland captaincy for the Six Nations.

JOHNNY SEXTON IS Ireland’s new captain but he’s not sure how long he will be in the role. Head coach Andy Farrell isn’t certain either.

Sexton will be the skipper for the upcoming Six Nations, whereafter he and Farrell will reflect on how it has gone and whether it’s worth him continuing as captain into the July tour of Australia.

While some might presume there’s a plan in place for James Ryan to take on the leadership at some point in the future, Farrell stresses that there is “no agenda” in this campaign-by-campaign concept.

jonathan-sexton Sexton at yesterday's Six Nations launch in London. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I said to Johnny a while back that we’ll assess it as we’re going and we’ll sit down after the Six Nations and we’ll see what we’ve learned along the way and see how we go,” explained the Ireland head coach at yesterday’s Six Nations launch in London.

34-year-old Sexton is aware that only the luckiest players get to decide when their careers are over, with injury a constant danger, meaning he is grabbing this opportunity – a lifelong dream – greedily with both hands.

Not that he sees himself stepping away from the game any time soon. His current contract runs until the summer of 2021 and Sexton plans to play on beyond that.

“I want to play for as long as I can because I love what I do,” he said yesterday. “I wouldn’t change it for anything… maybe for being a golfer! I love being in the sport, I love everything that goes with it and I want to play for as long as possible.

“The day that guys in the game that I respect say, ‘Look, I think you’ve had enough,’ I’ll listen and I’ll go. I’ll go kicking and screaming but I’ll go.”

Sexton has captained Ireland from the start of a match just once before when he led the side into last year’s World Cup clash with Russia.

He has been captaining Leinster for the past two seasons, of course, and has pushed himself to develop his leadership skills as much as any of his technical or physical skills.

Some Ireland supporters have concerns about Sexton’s ability to calmly deal with referees and how he reacts to team-mates’ mistakes on the pitch at times, but those are things the playmaker has pushed himself to be better at.

johnny-sexton Sexton was in sharp form for Leinster before injury. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I’ve had to change, I’ve had to adapt to being an older guy in the squad,” said Sexton of developing his leadership. “I’ve still got that drive in me but how I portray that to other people is more important than it was before.

“I’ve learned some good lessons with Leinster over three seasons when I started having captaincy responsibilities with Isa [Nacewa] and then after Isa.

“I learned a lot off the captains I played under and I’ll try to take bits off them but it’s important I’m myself. You’ve got to try to be true to yourself and that’s what I’ll try to do but I will try to get better. I’ll try to do that with every part of my game until I retire.”

With Sexton set to return from a knee injury to start Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Scotland in two weekends’ time, he will so everything in his power to help Farrell’s team begin with a win.

Having been hammered by Ireland at the World Cup, Scotland will come to Dublin “hurting,” predicts Sexton, but he and many of his team-mates bear scars from Japan too.

For Sexton and a large part of the team that will face Scotland, it will be their first outing in green since the heavy defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Sexton admits “you wish you could go back and do it again and you don’t get the chance” and is clearly still pained by Ireland’s shortcomings last year.

“It’s hard because the real amends will be made in four years’ time,” said Sexton. “Whether you’re there or not is another thing. It could have been a lot of our last World Cups.

jonathan-sexton-dejected-after-the-game Sexton is still pained by the World Cup shortcomings. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“But you get to the stage where you know a sporting career has ups and downs. You never just have all successes, you just learn that these bumps come, and sometimes they come along when you least expect them or you’re when you are in your best form or your best shape, and suddenly things just don’t go to plan. 

“And it’s just knowing that, knowing it’s part of the journey and it’s sort of easier to accept then and move on. But it’s not easy, there’s plenty of nights I lay awake, going, ‘What just happened? What went wrong? How did it go wrong?’ 

“And you mull over these things for ages, and I’ve been lucky that I had some good chats with Faz [Farrell], with Stuart [Lancaster] when I got back to Leinster and he had some good experience from being with England in 2015, and he kinda put everything into context for us.  

“So it’s been a good learning curve, even though you don’t want it to be.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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