'You’re picking up the phone thinking, 'Is it going to be good or bad news?''

Johnny Sexton is reveling in leading Ireland as they aim for Six Nations success.

Sexton at Ireland's training camp in Portugal.
Sexton at Ireland's training camp in Portugal.
Image: Ryan Bailey/INPHO

Updated Feb 2nd 2022, 8:40 AM

IT WOULDN’T BE a modern-day Six Nations without Johnny Sexton’s future coming up, so let’s start there.

The 36-year-old Ireland’s captain’s current contract expires in June, so he plans to sit down with IRFU performance director David Nucifora at the end of this Six Nations.

Barring a disastrous championship for Andy Farrell’s side, it seems certain that Sexton and Nucifora will be discussing an extension, most likely through to the 2023 World Cup.

“I feel great now, I felt great in the last couple of weeks in training and at the start of the season, but I know that can change,” said Sexton yesterday before Ireland flew back to Dublin from their training camp in Portugal.

“My intention is to keep going as long as I’m fit to do so and as long as I’m enjoying it, as long as the people in here want me to. That’s the most important thing for me as well.

“It couldn’t be further from my thoughts at the moment, because this first game [against Wales on Saturday] is everything. Other stuff looks after itself.”

Sexton has only started one game since Ireland beat the All Blacks back in November, showing his class as Leinster ripped Bath apart in the Champions Cup two weekends ago. But he’s fit and free of the knee/ankle injury he sustained last autumn.

Sexton is also loving his rugby. This hasn’t all become a slog for him in his 16th season as a senior professional. One thing that has added to his enjoyment of and obsession with the game has been the Ireland captaincy.

It feels like he has been in situ for a long time now but it’s only two years since Farrell confirmed Sexton as the successor to Rory Best.

“Lots of learning,” said Sexton when asked about the two-year stint, pausing for a laugh before continuing.

“One immediately stands out – I suppose the trip over to Paris.”

jonathan-sexton-celebrates Sexton celebrates the win over New Zealand last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This was when Sexton shook his head as he left the pitch after being replaced by Ross Byrne towards the end of Ireland’s rescheduled Six Nations clash against France in October 2020.

“There were a lot of lessons from that week, before, after, and during,” he continued. “But apart from that, by and large, it’s been a pretty positive experience and I’ve loved it, loved every second of it.

“It was a huge honour to be asked to do it and then every time the call comes in before a campaign, you’re always picking up the phone thinking, ‘Is it going to be the good news or the bad news?’ I’ve managed to keep it and I’m very proud to have done it for as long as I have and I want to keep doing it for as long as I can prove to be the man to do it.”

What were the lessons from Paris?

“We didn’t get our prep right and a huge responsibility for that is down to the captain,” said Sexton.

“We didn’t get our performance right on the day which probably stems from some of the prep and then obviously some of the stuff that was written about the reaction when you come off.

“Like I explained at the time, as much of it was the disappointment with myself that I didn’t play as I wanted to or the team didn’t play as I wanted us to play. But you just can’t let your guard down for a split second or a small mistake like that can be magnified into something huge.

“But, again, it makes you stronger and it makes you more prepared to try and bounce back and prove people wrong.”

What are they
really like?

Rare insights on sport's biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen to Behind the Lines podcast.

Become a Member

Sexton has always thrived when he feels like he has a point to prove, so perhaps all the praise that has come Ireland’s way since last November’s wins over Japan, New Zealand, and Argentina isn’t sitting entirely comfortably.

jonathan-sexton Sexton kicks a goal at Ireland camp in Portugal. Source: Ryan Bailey/INPHO

Like his head coach, Sexton has been speaking about Ireland having to drive their game to the next level for this Six Nations.

Much of the focus in the autumn was on Ireland’s excellent attack, but their defence was superb too and Sexton wants to see that improve again, starting against Wales on Saturday in Dublin.

“It’s going to be huge because Wales have an attacking system that can really stress you,” he said.

“They play very wide off phase, but they can be really direct early in the game and early in phases as well, so they challenge you both ways. They challenge you physically and they challenge you fitness-wise. They try and keep the ball in play as well by kicking long.

 “Yeah, the defence was great in November. It didn’t take many of the headlines because I suppose the narrative was around some of the attack, but the thing we pride ourselves on and the thing we want to show everyone is our defence because when you do defend, it’s your chance to show people the physical side and how much it means to play for Ireland.”

That final part has never been in doubt to anyone watching Sexton play in the green shirt.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel