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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Sar' wars for Sexton

Fly-half betting his boots Sarries up for battle in RDS clash

Jonathan Sexton doesn't care that much for form or places on league tables. The competitive nature of knock-out rugby, coupled with the opportunity to dine at European rugby's grand table once more is motivation enough for the 25-year-old who treats big games like tomorrow's with his intrinsic nervous excitement.

He'll have spent his routine hours this week honing his craft, with skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy by his side nurturing and cajoling with a simple word of advice or encouragement never far from his ear.

Routine and the disciplined approach to ties of this nature sharpens the mind like nothing else.

So even potential pitfalls like earlier kick-offs are swatted away methodically. You just adapt your body clock accordingly, he contends.

The external impression that the Saracens are travelling to Dublin draws a wry smile.

Quality, ambitious sides don't just rock up to roll over, he affirms.

As long as there is a sliver of hope, sport has taught him, you hold on for dear life. For opportunity knocks only for those who possess the will to risk.

"Saracens are a quality side and you don't get a result away against a side like Racing-Métro 92 without having a bit about you", he declared ahead of tomorrow afternoon's showdown in the RDS.

"The more you analyse them the better they look, so even though they're bottom of the pool right now, they still have a mathematical chance of qualifying and I'm sure that's something that they'll be focusing on this week.



Evident

"Even though (Brendan) Venter has gone from the day-to-day coaching, he has instilled his character in the team which is evident.

"Their results have shown that when their backs are against the wall they come out fighting and we're expecting another really tough battle.

"It's always the same when you face an English side."

The excitement and the adrenalin has been brewing nicely for the St Mary's man all week.

The earlier kick off means that he will adapt his planning accordingly.

"There was a time when we played virtually every Friday or Saturday night but I think that if you were to ask the guys they would also say that they prefer the earlier kick-off time.

"In round one we played Racing at this time and it was the same a few seasons back when we faced Leicester Tigers and won.

"You adjust your body clock early in the week and then you're ready to go come Saturday.

"So you're having your pre-match meal around the normal time you'd normally sit down for your breakfast, but you get used to it."

A lifelong Manchester United fan, the resonance of playing in Wembley Stadium in the reverse fixture wasn't lost on the Dubliner who capped off a 25-point haul with the Heineken man of the match award. It was, he admits, a dream day from start to finish and a memory that he will cherish.

"Joe (Schmidt) said to us in the build-up to the game that we may never have the opportunity to play in Wembley again, so you have to take opportunities that come your way in life because they may never be around again.

"I have fond memories from the day, both personally and collectively.

"To get an away win in Europe is no mean feat and when you consider the calibre of opponents we were up against, it was an excellent win.

"I have seen a lot of their games since then, especially this week, and there's no denying their qualities.

"Schalk Brits is a talisman for them, Alex Goode is dangerous as is David Strettle and if you give a player like (Michael) Tagicakibau time and space, he can really hurt you.

"I have never played against Gavin Henson and it will be interesting to see if they go with him.

"He was central to Wales winning the Grand Slam in 2005 and was a real loss to rugby over the last two years, so it's great to see world class players back playing. I think that Saracens will use the hurt from that day as a motivation for themselves on Saturday. They still have it all to play for and they need to win, so our defence has to be tight.



Memories

"The RDS is a tough place for visiting teams to win in, but they'll want to turn us over and we won't forget that London Irish came here and won last year, those memories still hurt.

"Saracens have a tough South African core to them and they'll be up for it from the off.

"They'll certainly be here to play."

Sexton's absence from the holiday period programme of games gave him an opportunity to rest and observe the talent in the squad unit and he was impressed by what he saw. "We have been on a decent run of form of late, but we know that there are areas for improvement. It was great for some of the younger players to step up and seize their opportunities because that builds competition within the squad.

"I think that in the games against Connacht and the Ospreys last weekend we weren't as clinical as we'd have liked and we have to go up another level at home."

Sexton believes the RDS factor can propel the squad to victory and he draws on the benefits of home comforts as Leinster gear up for two mammoth European ties as Pool 2 draws to a gripping finale.

"A lot of people loved playing in the Aviva, but I love playing in the RDS. When that crowd gets behind you like they always do it gives you such a lift," he says. "It's a privilege to play in front of the Leinster fans and with a full house behind you, you really do feel you have an extra man on the pitch.

"Home advantage also means that you can relax in your own house.

"You can go about your normal routine without any hassle, put the feet up and try to take your mind off the nerves you have about the game."



Qualifying

Will part of his recreation time this weekend be spent channel surfing across the European ties?

"You watch out for results around Europe, but it will only really kick in next weekend with teams qualifying for the knockout stages. We're not thinking that far ahead though.

"For us it's all about Saturday and building the atmosphere up for what will be a huge battle."

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