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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 19 September, 2019
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Lancaster sees similarities between Johnny Sexton and Tom Brady

“I think his wife is a bit upset with me.”

UPON HIS RETURN from Paris, Johnny Sexton was stinging in his criticism of how the winning culture had slipped at Leinster since the heady European Cup-winning days, insisting that the province wasn’t ‘within touching distance’ of winning trophies.

“There’s plenty of stuff that can’t be fixed over a few weeks — things wrong with the environment that need a long time to fix — so we know that and we’re working towards that,” the out-half said after Leinster’s ‘pathetic’ 30-6 defeat to Ulster in April 2016, not long after they had failed to get out of their Champions Cup pool.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates scoring a try Sexton has led both on and off the pitch. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The place was unrecognisable from when Sexton had left for Racing after three European crowns in four years.

“I haven’t been here for the last two years, so I can only speak about this season and the time before, but I spoke last week about trying to get back to the level we were at, and I still think we can get there, but we’re a long way off.”

Four months later, Sexton sent Stuart Lancaster a text when the former England head coach was weighing up an offer to move to Dublin to rehabilitate his career with the province.

Sexton knew what Lancaster could bring to the club, but more importantly knew Leinster needed an injection of his experience and coaching nous to help restore the right winning mentality among a new wave of talent.

Lancaster’s arrival as senior head coach to work in partnership with Leo Cullen and the rest of the coaching ticket has coincided with a period of remarkable growth for the province, so much so that Sexton’s comments seem a distant memory ago now.

The 48-year-old coach insists Leinster’s success, and unrelenting pursuit of a fourth European crown, is not solely down to him and has always been incredibly modest when it comes to receiving praise, much of which has come from the players he works with on a daily basis.

Lancaster appears to be a universally popular figure around Leinster’s UCD headquarters and it’s not hard to see why, with his dynamic relationship with Cullen working a treat and his work on the paddock and meticulous attention to detail driving standards within the organisation.

Sexton — bidding to win his fourth European winner’s medal this Saturday — has played a big part, too, and while Lancaster was keen to brush off any praise for his role in Leinster’s resurgence, he had no hesitation in heaping it on his players, and the out-half in particular.

Jonathan Sexton Sexton during squad training at UCD yesterday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It is obvious what he brings on the field but it is the behind the scenes that people don’t see that is the key to Johnny,” Lancaster explained. “I have loved coaching with him. His knowledge of the game and his ability to use that knowledge in the heat of battle in the game is incredible.

“His ability to keep calm and composed, to think things and solve the puzzle while in the game. He sees things like very few players I have coached so there is a gap. An international player would see the gap. A world-class player like Johnny would be through the gap.

“He is that good, in my opinion. I think he would agree as well that he has been coached by some very good coaches along the way and because of his meticulous approach to preparation he has absorbed all those lessons from all those great coaches.

“That has made him the complete player. Then you layer on his commitment to Leinster, his desire to win things, his competitiveness and his desire to keep playing until he is 40.”

Almost like Tom Brady?

“Yeah, he is always in a red bib in training so we’re looking after him,” Lancaster laughs.

“I think his wife is a bit upset with me because I can see the comparison. Honestly, I can. When I started watching the Patriots and understanding how they went to five Super Bowls and Tom Brady is the quarterback who has done it I could see it.

“I kept finding clips and sending them to Johnny.”

Sexton himself spoke last week about how he is now ‘obsessed’ with the 40-year-old Patriots quarterback after Lancaster planted seeds in his head.

“I’m reading up on him and trying to figure out how to prolong my career as long as possible,” he said — and you wouldn’t put it past him, either.

Jonathan Sexton kicks a conversion 'Stuart Lancaster has got me convinced I'm going to play 'til I'm 40 and my wife is going mad.' Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Leinster fans certainly wouldn’t complain if that’s the case given his enduring brilliance and the talismanic figure he has become in this side, while the same can be said about Lancaster’s contributions in helping the province back to the European summit.

The 48-year-old yesterday brushed off rumours linking up with the vacant job at Harlequins, insisting that he is happy at Leinster, where he is under contract until the end of the 2018/19 season.

Certainly Lancaster seems in his element in Dublin, coaching and nurturing a special group of players.

“With Leinster I was very lucky that I came into a team that has a strong culture, had great players, who had a very, very strong identity because 90% of the players who play for Leinster, I think, are born in Leinster,” he adds.

“Which is incredible, I can’t think of a team in rugby where there’s so many home grown players in one team.

“So, you know, the identity of Leinster is built on the former players and former coaches who played for the club and the province itself, of honesty, hard work and brothers behaviours: we work hard for each other and I think I didn’t have to do too much in that regard, I just came in and learned about it, and tried to embrace it, live here, feel part of the community and I think if you do that and commit to it it’s a powerful force. It’s very strong here.”

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Ryan Bailey

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