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80 seconds of class that showed Johnny Sexton's enduring qualities
The 35-year-old combined superbly with his team-mates to help create James Lowe’s try.

HE HAD TO deal with CJ Stander picking him out at every available opportunity but Johnny Sexton knows only too well how that kind of physical challenge comes with the territory.

There aren’t too many things the 35-year-old doesn’t know about out-half play at this stage and he showed a calm, experienced edge in Leinster’s win over Munster last night, a game that evidently frustrated him.

Sexton had some excellent moments on both sides of the ball, as well as nailing all four of his kicks at goal, and an 80-second passage in the second half best summed up why he remains so important for Leinster.

Moments after his team had botched a prime opportunity down in the Munster 22 – created by Sexton’s superb kick in behind to win a five-metre scrum – he was characteristically involved in a choke tackle turnover to seize momentum back.


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Munster send Chris Farrell thundering at Sexton’s inside shoulder from their lineout play but the out-half reacts well in combination with the impressive Josh van der Flier to leave Farrell in trouble.

Sexton and van der Flier lose the gainline to Farrell’s powerful run but both tackle high and get an arm each in underneath the ball, fighting hard to keep the Munster man up and away from the ground.

Ball Focus

Farrell knows he needs to get his knee to the ground here – which would ensure that a tackle has been completed and force the Leinster pair to release him.


As soon as Keith Earls, Chris Cloete and Niall Scannell join the fray, there is the danger for Munster of referee Andrew Brace calling a maul, which van der Flier and Sexton are appealing for as soon as they wrap Farrell up.

By preventing Farrell from twisting forward, van der Flier and Sexton deny him that chance to reach a knee to ground and Brace duly calls, “That’s a maul” just before Farrell’s backside makes contact with the ground.

With the ball wrapped up, it’s a turnover for Leinster and a moment Sexton clearly enjoys as he gets off the ground and whoops at Munster in celebration.


It’s van der Flier’s turnover as much as Sexton’s, of course, but it’s typically competitive defence from the out-half, who we have seen involved in countless choke tackles over the years.

Leinster flip their attention back to attack from the resulting scrum and, again, we get an example of Sexton’s qualities.

They play off a scrum advantage, with Sexton firing a lovely right-handed skip pass out in front of the superb Garry Ringrose to invite him to have a dart.


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With Ringrose stepping back inside Farrell to break the first-up tackle and leave Leinster with the option to attack left again, Sexton swings around the corner but we must note the work-rate of his team-mates in this passage that ends with James Lowe’s try. 

Coming from the scrum, the back row trio of Josh van der Flier [pink below], Jack Conan [yellow] and Caelan Doris [red] are all important, while Ryan Baird [white] makes an essential effort off the ball too.


Van der Flier and Conan are involved in Leinster recycling the ball for the next phase after Ringrose’s carry, clearing out with Robbie Henshaw.


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As Conor Murray brings Ringrose to ground, there is a clear threat to Leinster’s possession from Peter O’Mahony and Jean Kleyn [white below], both of whom have worked hard to get across from the collapsed scrum.


The Munster pair jackal and appear to get their hands onto the ball in the moment below, meaning Leinster must be ultra-decisive in reacting.

Henshaw [green] dips low to drive in on O’Mahony, while van der Flier [pink] and Conan [yellow] make contact with Kleyn.


All three Leinster players generate good power from close-range, although Conan’s angle of entry is questionable and could be argued as the kind of 45-degree entry that match officials have been asked to clamp out of the game.


Having briefly appeared to have hands on the ball – although without ever clearly lifting it away from Ringrose – O’Mahony and Kleyn are aggrieved as they’re cleared away by the Leinster trio, both appealing on the ground as McGrath moves the ball away.


Munster will feel frustrated but play continues in this instance – even if referee Andrew Brace briefly puts his whistle up towards his mouth. 

Meanwhile, Doris [red below] and Baird [white] have continued to work hard off the ball to get around the corner and offer a threat on the left.

We can see below that Sexton is signalling for Baird to set up outside him, while Doris holds on the out-half’s inside.


With O’Mahony and Kleyn having committed into the breakdown and been cleared out, Munster suddenly find themselves numbers down defensively and Leinster take advantage superbly.

Scrum-half McGrath’s role is important as he picks the ball and scoots to the left for three steps, making it a 5-on-3 situation and drawing in Damian de Allende [yellow below] before he passes to Sexton.


Sexton has already assessed the numbers-up situation and his running line is typically ‘square’ – straight up the pitch to challenge Farrell in front of him.


With options inside and outside Sexton, Farrell backs off [red below] in a bid to buy Munster time but, at the same time, right wing Andrew Conway opts to close up hard [pink] outside Sexton in an attempt to shut down the passing option to the outside.


The two Munster defenders are essentially working on different wavelengths in a very difficult numbers-down situation and Sexton reads the unfolding situation beautifully on the move.

With the ball in two hands throughout and constantly moving upfield to worry Farrell, Sexton perfectly delays his pass until he can find the space in between Farrell and Conway before releasing it to Baird surging onto the ball.


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Again, this is characteristic play from Sexton, who constantly has his head up assessing the defence and is always organising those around him. His decision-making on the move has been a strength for a long time.

Baird runs into clear space and with Lowe signalling for him to draw the last defender, Munster fullback Shane Daly, the 21-year-old lock does so without fuss. 


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Munster appeal for a forward pass from Baird, and possibly have a case, but the manner in which Daly stops the second row dead in his tracks after he releases the ball accentuates things.

Lowe has McGrath on his inside, the scrum-half working hard upfield in support, but he is able to sprint beyond Stander to finish before Munster can swing another defender across the backfield.

The match officials are happy with the final pass and there is no TMO intervention before the conversion, meaning Lowe’s five-pointer stands.

Sexton, having helped win possession back and then create the linebreak, slots the conversion from wide on the left to round out his excellent involvement.

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