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'If you want to win the European Cup again, you're going to have to beat Saracens at some stage'
A Six Nations medal isn’t enough to sate Jonathan Sexton.

THE BRIEF HOLIDAY time in the post-Slam glow is over. Yesterday, Johnny Sexton got back to work.

Jonathan Sexton Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The task at hand: more knock-out rugby (the necessary approach to a Grand Slam), another day in the Aviva Stadium and a Saracens side with their fair share of England personnel. Not least at half-back where Richard Wigglesworth will hope to be back alongside Owen Farrell.

Sexton can’t help but laugh when asked if he’d be sorry to knock Saracens out without Farrell in their ranks. A place in the semi-final would do just fine. Even if the standard-bearing Premiership side are an outfit Sexton and Leinster have long wanted to test themselves against.

“We would have loved to have seen how close we could have gotten to Saracens and we don’t get the chance now which is really gutting,” said the Ireland star in the wake of last year’s semi-final exit to Clermont.

Understandably, with the fixture now mere days away, Sexton yesterday pulled away from the notion he’s been lying in wait for a crack at the back-to-back European champions.

“That was a big disappointment that we didn’t get to the final last year, but I think we learned a lot and we need to take some of the lessons from that game in particular into this week.

If you want to win the European Cup again you are going to have to beat Saracens at some stage so there is no better time than to get them at home in the quarter-final.

“It is going to be a huge challenge, I don’t think they will have any fear based on what they did last year, so yeah it is a going to be a big challenge.”

Like the rest of his Ireland team-mates, Sexton is coming off a two-month stint of working under Joe Schmidt with meticulous preparation and repetition of details the order of the day. Though he will have checked in with his province last week, the playmaker will have just a handful of sessions to prepare with his team for a season-defining clash that falls 11 weeks after his last appearance in blue.

Jonathan Sexton Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

On top of the seven men potentially jumping straight from Ireland’s starting XV to Leinster’s, there is a familiarity around how Leinster are motivating this push for silverware too. The same men who were chasing first medals for Ireland — not just the brand new stars like James Ryan, Jordan Larmour or the relatively seasoned Dan Leavy and Garry Ringrose, but also accomplished front-line men such as Tadhg Furlong and Luke McGrath — are still hoping to unearth a first Leinster medal.

Indeed, given the eastern province’s last trophy was Matt O’Connor’s 2014 Pro12 win, Sexton and captain Isa Nacewa have not won a medal with Leinster since the Joe Schmidt days.

That’s positively a drought for players of their calibre.

“There is internal pressure that is driving us, definitely, and this team wants to create it’s own bit of history,” said Sexton, who pocketed six medals with his province between 2009 and 2013.

A lot of the guys who had that success have moved on now and there are only a few of us left and we want to start our own little chapter in Leinster’s story.”

A story that, if completed, won’t dedicate much time to whether Owen Farrell was fit or not in the quarter-final. Though having copped a blow to the face from his Lions team-mate in Twickenham, Sexton would certainly have less to worry about if Farrell is not in direct opposition.

“We’re good mates. I’m pretty sure it was accidental. That’s what he says anyway,” joked Sexton.

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Owen Farrell and Jonathan Sexton Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“If we get a win I’d be pretty happy. They have an outstanding backup in (Alex) Lozowski. He has played for England himself numerous times and impressed when he has played. He did pretty well against Harlequins last week.

“Look, any team in the world would miss Owen, whether it is at 10 or 12. You don’t get nominated for world player of the year for nothing. He has been outstanding for the last 24 months and I’m sure they are desperate to have him back.

“If we get a win on Sunday we don’t mind who we are playing.”

“We are going to have a crowd of 50,000 apparently and that’s a big factor, a big motivating factor, you don’t want to let those people down.

“But I do think they will have no fear, they sort of thrive off these atmospheres, it is that ‘against the world’ (mentality) and they seem to play their best under those circumstances.”

- Originally published at 06.50

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