Friday 22 February 2019

Blues look to 70-minute Sexton for their fourth star

SWAP: Joey Carbery replaces Sexton against Scarlets. Pic: Sportsfile
SWAP: Joey Carbery replaces Sexton against Scarlets. Pic: Sportsfile

Jonathan Sexton has learned to accept he is a 70-minute man, at most, for Leinster this season.

The out-half has completed a full match just once from nine starts for his province this season, coming against Connacht on New Year's Day.

"I always want to stay on until the end when I can," insisted Sexton.

"Obviously, last year, I was coming off with niggles and injuries."

That has led to a detailed plan on how many minutes Sexton is allowed to play, preserving his talents for when they are most needed in the big games.

SUPER SUB: Ross Byrne has come on for Sexton. Pic: PA
SUPER SUB: Ross Byrne has come on for Sexton. Pic: PA

It is a testimony to Leinster this season that coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have felt comfortable and confident enough to save Sexton's body for days ahead, as Ross Byrne has come to the fore at out-half and Joey Carbery has been used for impact in the latter part of the season.

"Against Saracens I came off after 70 minutes and there was nothing wrong with me. The coaches wanted me off," said Sexton.

"It was the same against Scarlets after 60 and I was disappointed. I was enjoying those games. I was loving the battles. It [coming off] is not something I want to do."

If Leinster can get away on the scoreboard, Sexton could well see the final minutes played out from the bench.

If Racing can do to them what they did to Munster, this is one game in which he could well see out the full 80.

The preservation of Sexton from here to the 2019 Rugby World Cup is paramount to Joe Schmidt's designs on the tournament. For the moment, Sexton is committed to leading Leinster back to where they have not been for six years.

The competitive streak burns just as fiercely as it did when he made his name in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster and final against Leicester Tigers.

"For me, it's about trying to get Leinster back to becoming champions again and put the fourth star in that jersey," he said.

For that to happen, Sexton will find out around lunchtime today whether it will be All Black Dan Carter or Springbok Patrick Lambie, who will stand at out-half and in the way of breaking down his former club.

The likely all-France international breakaway unit of Wenceslas Lauret, Bernard le Roux and Yannick Nyanga will be given instructions to close down the playmaker as quickly, often and physically as possible.

"We know that this is definitely going to be our toughest challenge to date," said Sexton.

"You look at their squad 1-40 and there are just quality internationals throughout.

"For us, it has to be about the collective because if you go man-for-man against them, it doesn't compare."

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