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Friday 9 December 2016

Mature Sexton: I am not Zlatan

Out-half in better place now than for the last Six Nations

Jonathan Sexton at yesterday’s Leinster press conference Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton at yesterday’s Leinster press conference Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton in action for Ireland during last year’s World Cup Photo: Sportsfile

Johnathan Sexton is not comfortable with the general image peddled of a grumpy old sod looking for the dark switch in a light-filled room.

Back in October, there was the outrageous French article, driven by unnamed sources within Racing Metro, accusing Sexton of being the Ibrahimovic of rugby, an ugly comparison with the egotistic Swedish footballer.

It was a cheap shot designed to unsettle the Irishman ahead of the World Cup match against France in The Millennium Stadium.

However, the immature image of a young Sexton beating on Michael Cheika's door to remind his Leinster coach he was better than Felipe Contepomi is one that comes in and out of focus.

Where one might see ego, another might interpret passion.

He is no longer a boy begging for a shot at the big time.

Maturity

Maturity can bring perspective. It can also feather in doubt.

Who is he anyway? "I'm not Zlatan, I'll tell you that," he said.

There is the perception pushed by people who don't know him from the outside and the reality of those who work with him on the inside.

"I don't know who I am. I am a man of many faces maybe."

When it came to the Gallic media, the out-half preferred the face-to-face shared with his former Racing club colleagues in the aftermath of the World Cup match.

"I met all my former team-mates from Racing in the changing-room after the game," he recalled.

"I was talking to them about old times and they were laughing about it as well because any of their comments were taken out of context.

"The French press have done that in the past and they'll continue to do it.

"I think they had another go again during those two Toulon games."

Indeed, L'Equipe made a snide judgement on Sexton as "visibly, completely out of touch, he symbolises the impotence of his club".

These are the sort of barbed comments that could have rocked a weaker individual.

"When you see the level of respect the French players have for the French press you can only just sort of sit back and take it with a pinch of salt."

Ireland's playmaker will once again shoulder the burden of a country for the Six Nations as the man who makes so many of the important decisions on and off the ball.

At least, he will begin the Six Nations knowing that his form is coming good at the right time.

The impact in his last Leinster outing against Dan Biggar's Ospreys in the PRO12 was his best of the season.

He was nothing short of immaculate in Swansea.

This time last year, he was still going through a 12-week time out due to a bad concussion.

"It was a unique position not playing for 12 weeks and having to play for your country straight away.

"It was something I wouldn't like to do again.

"It was a tough week, preparation-wise, because you had nothing to base it on. Even sometimes having bad performances can be a good thing.

"You have something to go off, something to work on. Going in off good performances, you have a lot of confidence. But, going in off twelve weeks of nothing was pretty tough. I'm in a much better place this year which is great."

There is the old chestnut tossed around that when Sexton goes well, Ireland go well.

Chance

"Or is it a good chance I'll play well, if they play well?" he countered, when it was put to him.

"It's both. Sometimes the team won't function because I don't play well.

"Other times I won' be playing well because the team's not functioning.

"I've said it all along, since I've played day one, I rely on everyone around me.

"When I'm going well it is largely because of them because of the coaching staff because of the players all doing their job, making my job a lot easier.

"That's the bottom line."

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