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'Johnny's a poster boy for being a professional' - Sexton up for IRB award

The Ireland camp are unsurprised that their out-half has been nominated alongside four Southern Hemisphere players.

Sexton was in superb form again last weekend against South Africa.
Sexton was in superb form again last weekend against South Africa.
Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

JOHNNY SEXTON IS the only Northern Hemisphere name on the IRB’s five-man shortlist unveiled this afternoon for their Player of the Year award, but the Ireland camp are unsurprised to see him put forward.

Joe Schmidt and his coaching team are fully aware of the out-half’s world-class ability to lead a game plan and set performance standards every day in training. His teammates may not always enjoy his sometimes-scathing words, but they too appreciate the 29-year-old’s influence.

Julian Savea, Willie le Roux, Brodie Retallick and Duane Vermeulen provide strong competition for an award that is, admittedly, argued to be meaningless in some quarters and has a somewhat tainted reputation in Ireland due to the ignoring of Brian O’Driscoll in the past.

Still, nomination is a recognition of Sexton’s high-quality year, one in which he has led Ireland to a Six Nations title and a win over South Africa, as well as impressing for Racing Métro in the Top 14.

The playmaker returns home to re-join Leinster next season, a move that will make Ireland’s backroom team all the happier. Scrum coach Greg Feek points out that Sexton’s nomination comes as little shock to the Ireland set-up.

Johnny’s a professional. I think that’s the key, having the guy that leads that type of thing,” says Feek. “He’s really a poster boy for being a professional athlete.

“To go over there [and perform], he’ll leave France with a lot of respect from the French in what he’s done. So, fair play to him.”

IrelandÕs Jonathan Sexton The Ireland out-half is the key tactical leader under Schmidt. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Sexton is perhaps the key player for Ireland now under Schmidt, the on-pitch brains for the Kiwi coach and a man who demands the highest level of preparation and performance from those around him.

The out-half’s display against South Africa last weekend was the latest demonstration of exactly how good he is. Feek admits that himself, Schmidt and the other Ireland coaches took some satisfaction from it.

Exactly, and when you’ve got someone like that in your team, it does build the guys as well, knowing that he’s the general. He directs plays, he understands the game plan so well, challenges Joe, challenges the boys, and nails those kicks.

“It’s great to watch and sometimes as coaches, you watch the game again and watch it differently. You enjoy seeing him doing his thing, and it’s good to watch.”

Long may Sexton’s form continue, whether it is recognised with IRB awards or not.

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Murray Kinsella

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