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Sexton hints that 2023 World Cup may be beyond him

‘I’m just going to focus on this campaign and, if I’m around next year, just focus on that and try and make the most of whatever is left.’

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

JONATHAN SEXTON HAS always come across as an unequivocating sort.

Players at the peak of sport tend to be. You can see it on the field when he barks orders at team-mates or indeed when he backs himself to execute a precision play under pressure.

He would back himself in an interview setting too, notably in recent years when the question has come about his endgame as a player.

Rugby is a punishing game and Sexton’s body is 35 years of age. He’ll be 36 come summer, but after the 2019 World Cup he spoke with insistence about playing for the Lions this summer and the 2023 World Cup was never something to be counted out.

After missing Ireland’s loss to France through concussion, Sexton was speaking today as he prepared to return as captain for the round three Six Nations match away to Italy and there was suddenly a sense of doubt when discussing future landmarks.

Either this is the dice roll of a player with an expiring contact, he is feeling the wear and tear of the game more acutely now or perhaps it’s just that a pandemic year has made planning and projecting seem futile.

“When we talk about World Cup cycles,” Sexton said midway through an answer to a question about Ireland’s lack of clinical edge against France, “I might not be a part of the full cycle, but this group will definitely be better for this type of coaching and structures.”

When his change in outlook is pointed out, he insists the projections of his longevity had always come from other voices. He is asked if he might follow the footsteps of Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara by moving from playing to coaching, or perhaps consider punditry, he grimaces.

“Eh, none of the above.

“I have a fair idea what I’ll be doing… I’ve got some things that I’ll work towards, whether it’s a year or two years I don’t know. I’ll work towards getting into the real world and start another life.

“There are parts of this game that are amazing, that you love and you’d love to be a part of it forever. And then there are some parts you can’t wait to get a million miles away from it.

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“So I love it at the moment. I’m loving every moment of playing. I’m just going to focus on this campaign and, if I’m around next year, just focus on that and try and make the most of whatever is left.”

There’s the uncertainty again, the ‘if’. Perhaps he would feel more confident about planning the years ahead if his current contract wasn’t on the expiring pile.

“Nearly, yeah, nearly, nearly,” he says when asked if the deal was on the way.

“Waiting on… nearly there, waiting on Leinster to see if Leinster want to keep me or not.”

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Sean Farrell

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