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Saturday 3 December 2016

Devin Toner: Johnny Sexton is no Zlatan Ibrahimovic

French bid to unsettle Ireland's out-half with cheap verbal shots

Ireland's Devin Toner
Ireland's Devin Toner
Jonathan Sexton

It would seem Jonathan Sexton's drive to succeed was misunderstood or 'lost in translation' during his two years at Racing Metro.

Their backs coach Laurent Labit has accepted his part in what was, in his opinion, the "failure" of Sexton at the Paris club.

"We never succeeded in finding a good way forward," said Labit, to respected French newspaper Midi Olympique.

"He didn't always perform for Racing. He knew it and it irritated him very much."

Labit appeared to understand Sexton's 'winning mentality,' even if there were often words passed between coach and player about how best to achieve their goals.

"Several times, I had to remind him that there are certain ways of expressing things," stated Labit.

"Jonathan had the tendency to employ a rather forceful manner and use a colourful language in the heat of the moment.

"Sometimes it bordered on insults. At some moments, Jonathan was really uncontrollable."

An unnamed player went further: "He's the Zlatan Ibrahimovic of rugby."

Inflated

This was presumed to dwell on the Swedish footballer's inflated ego rather than his talent at Paris St Germain.

These revelations have come suspiciously close to the time Ireland and France will bid to top Pool D and avoid the feted All Blacks in the World Cup quarter-final.

In rebuttal, Ireland lock Devin Toner unsurprisingly jumped to the defence of his out-half.

"Well, we couldn't even fathom him behaving like that," said Toner, about the comparison to Ibrahimovic.

"He's just another player with us. He's not big-time. He's the 10 who runs the show, but that's what we want.

"He's not big-headed. He's a very down-to-earth guy, so we don't recognise that at all.

"He's the same as he was before he went to France," he commented on Sexton's persona since his return from Racing.

"It's a hugely positive thing. It's not a negative at all.

"I don't know whether France are trying to paint it out as a negative picture or not, but it's 100% not.

"He drives the lads to be better, and you want to be better when you're playing with him.

"If I'm not in the right place and I hear someone screaming at me, I know I'm not in the right place and I'll think in my head 'I've got to get that right next time'."

Most likely, the suggestion of Sexton as an unpopular character would appear to be a cheap shot, made to destabilise Ireland just before he will re-engage with men he has played against and with, like prop Eddie Ben Arous, hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and flanker Bernard le Roux from Racing.

The relationship between Toner and Sexton stretches way further back than the last two years, all the way to Leinster Schools, in fact.

"I've played with Sexto' since schools rugby so I'm pretty used to it, to be honest," he explained.

"They mustn't have been used to that in France, but it's a hugely positive thing for the team if lads aren't getting their roles right. He's not going to do it for the sake of it."

Subtlety

Sexton has never been one for subtlety. His opinion has always been stitched right onto his sleeve.

He has never been one to back down either.

The fledgling fly-half was at then Leinster coach Michael Cheika's door to tell him why should be starting ahead of Felipe Contepomi.

He was right up into the face of Ronan O'Gara in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park.

There was the incident where he nealry came to blows with South African lock Juandre Kruger towards the end of his first season at Racing Metro.

"He'll be doing it because there's a reason behind it," continued Toner.

"It will be because lads aren't in the right position or knowing their roles, so I think it's hugely positive for the team."

Perhaps, Sexton's biggest mistake in Paris was not to temper his passion with a better understanding for the cultural differences that exists between the Irish and the French.

"Obviously they weren't used to it, but we're glad to have him back to be honest," said Toner.

"I think he grew into being that kind of leader.

"When we were playing schools rugby he probably wasn't as dominant. He's learned the game and grown into it."

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