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Sexton still striving to be 'complete leader' and deal with referees

Johnny Sexton has had no problem adapting to captaincy duties with Leinster, but he is still working to better control his ‘flaws’.

THERE WERE FEW who would have doubted Johnny Sexton’s credentials to be captain of his native province when he was announced as Isa Nacewa’s successor this summer.

His intense and animated directions have always been a feature of his game, his leadership position is simply formalised with a title.

Jonathan Sexton Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Right or wrong, I probably thought I was captain when there were times I wasn’t,” Sexton said with a wry smile the way of head coach Leo Cullen.

“I probably pissed off the captain I played with at times. But, I always respected them even though I probably annoyed them, badgered them.

“I remember playing with Leo. At times, I thought we should go for the corner or go to the posts and he would have thought otherwise. We would have a word and, once he made his decision, I accepted it and did whatever he asked.

There are guys in the environment now that, hopefully, will do the same. Last week against Dragons, Scott Fardy wanted me to take three and I felt we should have made the pressure tell gone for a scrum. I listened to Scott and took three. I don’t know if it was the right decision or not, but we got the right result.”

Most on-field conversations, especially moments of diplomacy like that, tend to fly a long way under the radar of those watching from the stands or their settee. But the microphone pinned to referees have given intriguing insights into interactions between officials and players as combative as Sexton.

On the path towards lifting the Champions Cup last season, Sexton admitted that his method of dealing with officials was “a work in progress,” and his stint as skipper during Ireland’s third Test win over Australia in June suggested that the work continues.

Tweet by @Colin Harmon Source: Colin Harmon/Twitter

“I know you hate me, but you have to talk to me,” Sexton told Pascal Gauzere, feeling the French official had pushed a policy of not engaging with the 10 in the previous Test.

“I obviously don’t know that’s going to be picked up on the mic,” Sexton said at yesterday’s Champions Cup launch.

“If I had my time back again, of course I wouldn’t say it… in the previous game I was captain, he had his hand on the mic telling the ref (Paul Williams) not to speak to me or converse with me. I thought that was probably not right. That’s where that came from.”

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The 33-year-old scoffs when it’s said that he can now legitimately bring issues to referees. His match against Edinburgh last weekend ended with what was a brief, but heated enough exchange with referee Dan Jones. The Welshman scolded Sexton for taking too long over the touchline conversion of his own try. It had seemed as though Sexton took the moments to suck in oxygen after the stretch over the line earned him shot to the ribs. So he didn’t take the critique well.

Johnny Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Look, I will only go to the ref if I think I’ve seen something that needs to be said. The week before, against the Dragons with (Quinton) Immelman, I had a great game. In hindsight, there were a few things I could have pushed harder. But, he had a great game and rewarded the team that was attacking.”

Look, I’m not always right, but, I’m not going to say something for the fun of it, If I’ve seen something.

“There are referees, generally, the really good or experienced ones, that go: ‘yeah, sorry I missed that’ or ‘I’ll take that on board the next time,’ as opposed to totally dismissing it.”

“As a captain, you are always going to have flaws, aren’t you? As a player, you are always going to have flaws.

“(It’s) how you fix them up and keep them under control in the heat of battle or in those difficult situations, that’s the challenge as a player with leadership.

“I’m definitely not the complete leader. But, I have yet to meet someone that is the complete leader.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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