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Sunday 5 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Dan Sheridan/INPHO Johnny Sexton celebrates after the game with his children Luca and Amy.
# Drive For Five
'I never thought that I’d get another chance. We are so driven to put a fifth star on the jersey '
Johnny Sexton says Leinster will need to hit another level as they look forward to the Champions Cup final on 28 May.

JOHNNY SEXTON SAYS Leinster can hit another level as they look forward to a return to the Heineken Champions Cup final on 28 May. 

The province stormed to an impressive 40-17 semi-final win over five-time champions Toulouse at a sun-drenched Aviva Stadium today thanks to tries from Josh van der Flier, Hugo Keenan, and two from James Lowe.

Leinster will now play either Racing 92 or La Rochelle in the decider at Marseille’s stunning 67,000 capacity Stade Vélodrome.

It will be the province’s first apperance in a Champions Cup final since the 2019 defeat to Saracens in Newcastle. 

And despite turning in a superb performance against Toulouse, Sexton says Leinster will hope to lift their levels again as they look to draw level with the French side at the top of the Champions Cup roll of honour.

“I think it was good. We did some really good things,” Sexton said.

“What I was most pleased about was that we didn’t let the mistakes faze us. Going 7-3 down when we were dominating the first few minutes, we didn’t let that get on top of us and we just bounced back. When they scored the try to make it a two-score game again, we bounced back again.

“How we came back from the bad moments was probably what I was most pleased about. We did some good things and built on last week’s performance. We dug in last week, it wasn’t great in terms of how we used the ball but we built on it.

We need to be better again in the final because at the end of the day, Toulouse played 100 minutes against Munster, had to travel home, had to travel here again. So we’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt. This isn’t where we wanted to get to. We want to win the final so we’ve achieved nothing yet.”

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The Leinster captain was at the heart of most of Leinster’s best moments today, with the 36-year-old at his influential best before being replaced as the game approached the final 10 minutes, including a wonderful shimmy to create some space in the lead-up to Van der Flier’s first-half score.

“I certainly didn’t back myself to go the distance,” Sexton said.

I thought about chipping it but then Stu (Lancaster) would have killed me if I did. I just saw the red scrum-hat and know the form he has been in, if I could get it to the red scrum-hat he’d score. He’s been incredible for the last few months, incredible performance again by him.  

“Robbie (Henshaw), he’s been sick for the last couple of days, for him to turn up and play the way he did, it’s a testament to him. Some great performances throughout. We’ve got to a final now but that’s not where we’ve ever set our aspirations.”

Leinster’s last appearance in the final saw them lose 20-10 to Saracens at St James’ Park in 2019. Sexton hopes Leinster can now use that experience to go one step better in two weeks’ time, admitting he didn’t always feel confident of getting back to European club rugby’s showpiece event. 

johnny-sexton Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Sexton played a starring role against Toulouse. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“Small margins, wasn’t it,” Sexton said, reflecting on the 2019 game. 

“10-3 up just before half-time, I made the decision to box-kick, last play of the game, we could have kicked it out and it was half time but we wanted to go and put pressure on Saracens to get another score and conceded a penalty, 10-all at half-time and I think we let that get to us that day.

“We came out after half-time and we had a couple of chances to score, a couple of decisions went against us and that’s the game. They score, we’re chasing against a team that love when you chase. Very small margins, that’s what we live with in these finals and semi-finals and that’s something that you need to work hard to make sure you are on the right side of.

“A lot of it is preparation and know-how and I think we need to use positive experiences. We’ve been a champion team before, but also the Saracens final, what we could do better. Because we’d love to go back, in sport you don’t get a chance. Now we’ve got another chance.

“I never thought that I’d get another chance so it’s great, and we are so driven to put a fifth star on the jersey and every single person in the dressing room, staff, guys who were playing, guys who weren’t playing are really driven. It’s a special environment to be part of.”  

- updated 9.30pm.

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