Thursday 20 June 2019

Johnny treads a fine line as skipper - Leo

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Leinster captain Johnny Sexton courted controversy against Munster
Leinster captain Johnny Sexton courted controversy against Munster

Leo Cullen. Isa Nacewa. Rhys Ruddock. These are the names that have shaped the culture of Leinster's captaincy.

Mostly, they are the strong, silent types until the time arrives to make their point to the referee.

A quick consultation with two more decorated hacks revealed how they nominated Martin Johnson as an example of a successful combustible character in line with Jonathan Sexton's on-field persona.

Cullen saw the similarities: "Yeah, someone like that, they're abrasive characters," he said.

"They want their team to do well. They want to try and impose themselves on the game as well.

"They feel the weight. They want to bring everybody with them. That can be a tough space to operate in, with all the scrutiny that's put on them."

Like Johnson, the Leinster man with the Munster roots is a great of the game, the current World Player of the Year, indeed.


Sexton is Leinster and Ireland's primary leader, the driver of everything except the bus to the match.

The hangover from the Munster derby has centred around Sexton, the part the out-half played and, by extension, whether or not he is captain material.

The subject is open to debate as the 33-year-old is still going through a learning process.

"We always deal with the fallout from any game - win or lose," noted Cullen.

The main point of contention is the stall set out by a borderline tackle from Fineen Wycherley, one that was more legal than a litany of examples by England locks in recent years.

The captain escaped a yellow card for ripping away Wycherley's scrum cap and throwing it into his face.

It set the tone for a period of play in which referee Frank Murphy did all he could to keep all players involved - until he couldn't.

"We will analyse as much as we can, pull it apart, talk to the relevant people about so many different aspects of the game," said Cullen.

"The way we communicate, the way we manage officials on the day, what were the messages going into the game and how did we respond to the environment.

"There's plenty of things we didn't get right about the game. There's lots for us to focus on this week.

"It is a timely reminder for us really because it doesn't cost us massively, in terms of league standings.

"But, it has cost us a suspension and a bit more scrutiny and pressure on us as well.

"We just need to understand why we get ourselves in that situation where we are, at one stage, down to 13 men and down on the scoreboard.

"It is not just one incident. There's lots of different things where we don't manage the pressure of the game and the pressure that Munster put us under."

Still, Sexton has to find the balance on the knife edge between being himself and being the captain.

The reasoning behind Sexton's selection as captain is convincing.

"Well, his drive for the team to be successful to maximise their potential," said Cullen.

"He is someone who is maximising his potential, that's why he's World Player of the Year, he had an incredible year last year.

"The drive, the hunger he has to be successful, that's what sets him apart from everybody else.

"At times, that's when you're right to the edge, sometimes you might tip over the edge, that's the fine line he operates in. That's what makes him the player that he is, and lots of the great players have been like that."

These days, 15 years after Johnson's retirement, not many captains can be like that.

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