Ireland captain Johnny Sexton. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Ready to go

Sexton takes centre stage again after long, frustrating summer on the sidelines

The out-half will captain Ireland at the World Cup after serving his three-game ban.

JOHNNY SEXTON ISN’T a man who tends to get stuck for words when there’s a microphone in front of him, but there was a moment at the Shelbourne Hotel yesterday where the Ireland captain took a lengthy pause before answering a question from the floor.

Sitting beside Andy Farrell during Ireland’s World Cup squad announcement press conference, the out-half had just been asked how much attention he had paid to the noise surrounding his disciplinary hearing – and subsequent three-game ban – for verbally abusing the match officials following Leinster’s Champions Cup defeat to La Rochelle.

He considered his words carefully before touching on the personal toll of a controversy that was, by his own admission, “obviously my own fault.”

“Yeah, I think when it affects your family, you obviously go, ‘Why are you upset?’ Sexton said. “This happened, this happened, this happened, this happened, this happened” – and still five weeks later this is still happening…

Of course, I’m not trying to play the victim. I made a mistake and I had to put up with what I had to put up with for seven weeks. You have to face up to your actions, and that’s what I did.”

The seven weeks seems to be the lasting sore point of the whole saga, with the incident taking place at Aviva Stadium on 20 May and a decision on Sexton’s ban not arriving until 16 July.

“I’ve never seen another process last eight weeks or seven weeks, whatever it was,” Sexton continued.

“So it was incredibly frustrating, not knowing what was going to happen.

jonathan-sexton-andy-farrell-and-michael-kearney Johnny Sexton, Andy Farrell and team manager Michael Kearney during yesterday's press conference. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I’m not sure why it took so long but that’s the way it was handled. It doesn’t really matter what I think; I got my suspension and I’ve had to just sit it out and that’s it.”

The 38-year-old also confirmed that he did seek any clarification around why the process was so drawn out.

“No, I was just trying to go along with what was happening and do the right thing at each stage. As I said previously, I made a mistake in that one moment.

That’s what I held my hand up for. I don’t go along with a lot of the other stuff that was thrown at me, but sometimes you’ve just got to take it on the chin.

“It’s over now, thankfully, and hopefully I’ll be in good shape come Romania in two weeks.”

With the ban now served, Sexton is fit and available for selection ahead of Ireland’s opening World Cup pool clash with Romania on 9 September.

It’s a fixture Ireland will be expected to win comfortably, but one in which Sexton will be grateful of the gametime – the Ireland captain hasn’t played any competitive rugby since injuring his groin in the Six Nations win against England in March.

“For a kicker, to injure your adductors like I did is not ideal but thankfully the IRFU sent me to the best guy in the world.

“He did a great job, he mapped it out for me and he was literally, to the day, accurate in what he told me; when I could return to training, when I could kick a ball again. He just mapped it out, knew from his experience. It’s very impressive to see. Thankfully it’s been good over the last number of weeks and hopefully ready to go.”

Farrell will certainly hope his captain can quickly get up to speed, with Ireland playing Romania and Tonga in their first two pool games before taking on South Africa and Scotland.

On the back of an excellent year which has included a series win in New Zealand and Grand Slam success, Ireland head to France as the number one ranked team in the world and one of the early favourites to win the World Cup.

It would be a stunning way for Sexton to end his international career and the out-half outlined why he believes this group can create history in France.

“What we’ve done. What we’ve done over the last couple of years, how we’ve built from four years ago and got better along the way.

“I’ve been in groups before where you go to a World Cup and you say we’re here to win it but you don’t often have the achievements to back that up.

“(Whereas) we’ve got things like the grand slam, going to New Zealand and winning a series – stuff like that, stuff that when you go back over other teams that have won it, like England in 2003. They said they needed to win a Grand Slam, they needed to win in the southern hemisphere to win a world cup.

“So we’ve some evidence to give us a little bit of confidence but we also know that it’s the toughest group that we’ve ever had, the toughest quarter-final draw if we can manage to get through our group, so it’s all to do.”

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