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Monday 24 July 2017

Leinster are worlds apart from where it was when Sexton returned home

Jonathan Sexton
Jonathan Sexton

Jonathan Sexton has shaken off the mean-minded murmurs of the Ireland out-half 'milking' the hits that came his way during the Six Nations.

It even prompted Brian O'Driscoll to step in when a Welsh journalist, writing for an English newspaper, called out Sexton for "becoming a rather bizarre figure" for hitting the floor so often.

"He gets hit because he has the liathróidí to take the ball to the line creating space," shot the former Ireland captain.

Sexton does not need anyone to fight his battles for him on the field or off it. It is precisely because he puts himself in the line of fire that he gets shot, or knocked, down.

Bravery comes at a greater cost than the bizarre comments emanating from the sidelines.

"A lot of those tackles are probably borderline," he said at the launch of the Irish Rugby Players, formerly known as IRUPA.

Committed

"In the referee's eyes, they were committed. You've got to trust that the refs will keep an eye on them.

"There will be times you will stay down to make sure people have a look.

"To suggest that you're staying down to milk it, or whatever, isn't the case. Anyone who has had a stinger knows what it feels like and you just need a little break to get over it."

At present, Sexton will not be taken in by the constant drip of noise about the British & Irish Lions.

He will be fully focussed on Connacht in the PRO12 on Saturday before turning the page to Clermont-Auvergne in The Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday week.

It was around this time last season that the outspoken out-half spoke about how the culture had slipped at Leinster.

What about now?

"It's worlds apart I think," he shared.

It hasn't just been one person or one thing. It has been everything. We've got some key people in that have made a huge difference.

"We've added in the calibre of player of Robbie (Henshaw), some of the younger players coming through with their attitude, it's been brilliant.

"Stuart (Lancaster) has made a brilliant difference as well. We had Graham Henry in over the summer, who had a huge impact in just two weeks.

"We got what we deserved last year and, hopefully, we can get what we deserved this year."

There was special praise reserved for the former England coach, bringing a new broom to sweep Leinster clean of the cobwebs.

"I couldn't have done it," said Sexton. "Look, he's very experienced. He was in charge of the biggest organisation in world rugby.

"He's been brilliant since he came in, with his attitude, just the mental side of getting us ready."

Defying

It has all contributed to Leinster, and Munster, defying the predictions of the watering down of the Irish provinces impact in Europe.

"It was said this new Champions Cup format was not going to benefit the Irish.

"But, we learned from that last year," he continued.

"The first game back after the Six Nations, it wasn't perfect against Wasps, but it was pretty good."

There will have to be more improvement against Clermont to get Leinster back to their first final in five years.

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