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Johnny and Joe - the partnership that could propel Ireland into uncharted territory

Joe Schmidt found a kindred spirit in the No 10 when he first pushed open the Leinster dressingroom door.

Joe Schmidt celebrates with jonathan Sexton Then Leinster head coach Joe celebrates with Jonathan Sexton after victory over Clermont Auvergne in the 2012 European Cup semi-final. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IF THERE’S ONE moment that encapsulates the relationship between Joe Schmidt and Jonathan Sexton, it has to be the delirious scenes at full-time following Leinster’s thrilling Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Clermont in Bordeaux back in 2012.

After a phenomenal defensive performance, spearheaded by a trademark Schmidt starter play that delivered the game-turning try to Cian Healy early in the second half, Leinster held out for a nail-biting 19-15 victory at the Stade Chaban-Delmas.

The image of Sexton embracing Schmidt at the final whistle remains an enduring image of master and apprentice perfectly in-sync on the big stage.

Indeed, it was Sexton at half-time who rallied the troops and called the try-scoring play.

When Isa Nacewa sounded out his former Auckland Blues backs coach Schmidt about taking the vacant Leinster coaching job back in 2010, it was Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen who the Kiwi met to discuss the potential role.

Schmidt had spent the last three years masterminding Clermont’s attacking game alongside Vern Cotter and has admitted that he was not going to take the job, but he was struck by the drive and determination of the Leinster trio, particularly Sexton.

When Schmidt told the triumvirate that he wasn’t sure what they were looking for and that he had limited experience of leading a professional rugby team, Sexton interjected: ‘You don’t have to worry about that, we’ll do that.’

‘Who is this young fella, he is obviously driven,’ Schmidt later said about his first encounter with the Leinster No 10.

The pair have worked in perfect harmony ever since.

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Joe Schmidt  with Jonathan Sexton Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Schmidt demands meticulous application, honesty and an unrelenting work-rate from his players. Sexton, in return, demands clarity, strategic planning and strong direction from his coaches. Those standards delivered two Heineken Cups, an Amlin Challenge Cup and a Pro12 title for Leinster.

When Leinster beat Stade Francais at the RDS to clinch the Challenge Cup in 2013. They ruthlessly exposed the Parisians with three set-play tries in the first-half. It was the perfect example of the Schmidt/Sexton template.

Stade dominated possession in that opening half in Dublin but Schmidt’s men shell-shocked the Top 14 giants with Sexton to the fore as he laid on tries for Ian Madigan and Rob Kearney with an inside pass for the first and a cross-field kick for the second. Two trademark Schmidt plays.

Their working relationship has continued with Ireland with Sexton director-in-chief of Ireland’s tactical kicking game.

It goes without saying that the former Racing 92 fly half is integral to Ireland’s chances at the World Cup. There is no doubt that Schmidt is working on set-plays and attacking strategies for the forthcoming tournament and Sexton will be entrusted with delivering them on the pitch.

When Chris Henry suffered a mini-stroke and had to withdraw from the Ireland line-up hours before the South Africa Test back in November, Rhys Ruddock was approached by Schmidt in the team hotel just hours before kick-off. Ruddock would have to replace Henry as a makeshift openside against the Springboks.

‘Do you know your roles?’ Schmidt asked the Leinster flanker at the time.

Under Schmidt, Sexton has always known his – and that is why their partnership has always worked perfectly.

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