Sexton sings Ireland's Call in Cardiff.
# Back in action
'I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was before a game' - Sexton
The 37-year-old Ireland captain explained the confusion around his HIA in Cardiff.

HE LEFT WITH a dead leg and having to undergo a HIA, but Johnny Sexton is back up and running.

It was a barren period for the Ireland captain in terms of game time leading into today’s Six Nations opener against Wales. A calf injury last autumn was followed by a facial injury on his return for Leinster on New Year’s Day. He has had to wear a face mask in training in recent weeks as he recovered from the latter.

Sexton has shown several times before that he can get back up to speed very quickly, but even he was a bit worried about his latest comeback. Happily, he was able to reflect on a bonus-point 34-10 win in Cardiff, where Ireland had last won in the Six Nations in 2013.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was before a game,” said Sexton post-match at the Principality Stadium.

“For lots of reasons, but the main one was I’d forgotten what it was like to build up.

“I’d had one game on New Year’s Day since South Africa [in November] and I got injured in that.

“I trained hard, made some mistakes in training but you want to train well and then hopefully you get a few less on Saturday. We came a bit unstuck in the third quarter, we just need to look at that and see what we can do better.

“We’ll get through it and see how we are next week.”

There was some confusion just before Sexton was replaced by Ross Byrne late on in the game.

He had been high tackled by Wales fullback Liam Williams a few minutes earlier, leading to the Welshman being sin-binned, and referee Karl Dickson appeared to indicate that Sexton should be checked for a head injury. 

Sexton continued before being replaced in the next break in play, with the independent match day doctor then requesting that the out-half undertake a Head Injury Assessment after hearing the exchange with Dickson, according to Ireland.

johnny-sexton-kicks-a-conversion Dan Sheridan / INPHO Sexton kicks a conversion. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I was just trying to get the physio,” explained Sexton of that exchange with Dickson.

“I had a dead leg, wanted to get it strapped up but he said I needed to come off for a HIA. I said I just needed to see a physio and get a quad strapped. That was the confusion.

“I went off, did my HIA. I’m fine.”

Sexton said his bang to the leg should be OK too and he is expected to be fit for the clash with France next weekend back in Dublin.

The 37-year-old was pleased to get going again, although he admitted that his recent facial injury was in his thoughts at times today.

“A little bit, I slipped off one or two tackles trying to go a little bit lower so I went back to tackling higher in the second half,” said Sexton.

“It can be in the back of your mind, I tested it during the week, did some contact with Simon Easterby. I felt good, was confident and I got a good whack in the first-half and it was OK. I tested it out as well.”

Sexton was happy with Ireland’s result on the road in Cardiff but he clearly believes there is lots of room for improvement. 

“Really happy with how we started,” said the Leinster man. “It was everything we spoke about during the week in terms of our accuracy, in terms of our discipline when they had the ball we were really good.

“Then we let that slide in the third quarter, we gave them four or five penalties on the bounce. What we spoke about at half-time was discipline.

“We just did the opposite. I think the coaches said, ‘Don’t give away any penalties’ and all we heard was ‘penalties.” So we gave away some silly penalties but I thought the ref did really well.

johnny-sexton-celebrates-after-the-game Laszlo Geczo / INPHO The Ireland captain celebrates. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s what you want, you want the ref to be strict. When we had the ball at the start he was reffing the team without it, when they had the ball he was reffing us at the start of the second half.

“Fair play to him, it’s tough to come here and ref in that crowd and then keep making the right decisions like he was. Fair play to him.”

Ireland’s attention now turns to France next weekend in Dublin and Sexton is relishing the chance to take on the defending Grand Slam champions.

He hopes to see and hear the Irish support at the Aviva Stadium at its best for that one.

“It’s only a start but at the same time if you come away with a bad result today, the Triple Crown is gone, Grand Slam is gone. We’re still in the hunt, which is brilliant. It’s all down to next week, that’s the beauty of this competition, there are no easy games.

“All five games this year are really tough, and none tougher than next week. The team that hasn’t been beaten in a year, we haven’t beaten them yet.

“We’re up against it but when we went over to Stade de France last year, it was probably the best atmosphere I’ve seen, and I’m sure our Irish fans will put on something similar.”

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