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'Johnny chaired the meeting and you’re almost clinging onto the words he says'

The Ireland out-half is getting to grips with his new role as the team’s permanent leader.

JOHNNY SEXTON BEING the Ireland captain isn’t going to get boring any time soon. Each and every one of his interactions with referees make for riveting listening. The tone of voice, the slightly raised eyebrows, the feigned surprise, the counter-points, and the questions.

Sexton was the most intriguing character in the Ireland team before he took over the official leadership for this Six Nations and it’s just magnified now.

His relentlessly competitive streak seems even stronger. Whether insisting that defenders move back a few inches more when Ireland have a penalty, getting into a mini-spat with an opponent off the ball, or shushing them as he goes to speak with the match officials, there is always an edge to the out-half.

ireland-v-wales-guinness-six-nations-aviva-stadium Sexton played 70 minutes for Ireland against Wales. Source: PA

Sexton is working hard on his communication with referees and felt that Saturday with Romain Poite went pretty well as Ireland beat Wales 24-14.

“The decisions were clear. They got on the ball and we were not accurate enough with a couple of the breakdowns,” said Sexton by way of review.

“Obviously, there was some frustration that we didn’t get the scores we were hoping for. There was also frustration on Tadhg [Furlong]’s behalf with the scrum penalty [five metres out early on in the game] that was given against us. We had no reason to turn them like that.

“It was just asking the questions and in fairness to Romain, he was brilliant to deal with. We had good conversations.

“With the [Tomos Williams] try they got, I wanted to make sure he checked both passes and not just the last one. That was all that was about. I thought it was okay.”

It turns out that Sexton is already getting pretty good at speaking to his team-mates too.

Following Saturday’s bonus-point win over the Welsh, there was plenty of praise for the captain’s meeting Sexton had led in Ireland’s team hotel in Dublin the night before the game.

johnny-sexton-with-his-daughter-sophie-and-son-luca-after-the-game The Ireland captain with with his daughter, Sophie, and son, Luca. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Keen for his Ireland team to play with confidence, Sexton had reminded them of their ability.

“Johnny had a good… we had a good meeting last night,” explained prop Dave Kilcoyne.

“He was looking around and he was just looking at everybody and was like, ‘The quality in this room is absolutely insane. There’s world-class players throughout.’

“Sometimes you can get away from that. Obviously, we want to stay grounded and I think we are but you have to express yourself on the pitch.

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“Lads are going so well with their clubs and when they come into the Irish environment, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be expressing themselves like they are and it’s great to see them out there doing that. So hopefully that continues.

“The respect that the lads have for Johnny Sexton in Irish rugby is incredible. The captain’s meeting, Johnny chaired it, and you’re almost clinging onto the words he says.”

It’s two games into the Sexton captaincy, so too early to know if it will be a lasting success, but his team-mates are certainly impressed so far.

johnny-sexton-at-the-post-match-press-conference Sexton was sporting a shiner post-match. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Any time he’s talking, everyone’s listening, he always says the right things at the right time,” said 22-year-old fullback Jordan Larmour, who also highlights how Sexton’s demanding nature is welcome.

“He’s a great leader and when he’s giving out to you in training, it’s because he’s trying to get the best out of you. He’s not doing it to be mean about it or anything like that. He’s trying to get the best out of you and that’s a sign of great leadership.

“He has been doing a fantastic job so far and we’re all behind him.”

Perhaps most important of all, Sexton has had two good games for Ireland in his first two outings as the new captain.

He didn’t steal the headlines on Saturday but there was quality in his decision-making, commitment in his defence, and accuracy in his attacking execution.

His head coach, Andy Farrell, is enjoying watching the 34-year-old get to grips with his leadership role.

“Honestly, it’s new to him and you can ask him – I’m asking quite a bit of him and he’s coming to the table with his own ideas,” said Farrell. “That’s exactly what we want.”

The extremely driven Sexton will have ideas about playing on for years to come if his body allows him, with the 2021 Lions tour certainly among his goals.

Some people close to the out-half even believe he will make the next World Cup at the age of 38.

“We’ll see,” said Farrell of that prospect.

“You know what? That far ahead doesn’t really matter, because it’s guaranteed he will make people better all around him.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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