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Sexton has his shot at redemption

Eight months a long wait for Irish out-half to banish England nightmare

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Leinster and Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton

Leinster and Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton

Leinster and Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton

Eight months is a long time for anyone to stew over a crushing defeat, but for Johnny Sexton in particular, time seemed to tick that bit slower.

It didn't help that his own performance in the Twickenham nightmare was significantly below his high standards, and considering it was only Sexton's third Six Nations game as Ireland captain, it was an especially bitter pill to swallow.

No matter what he achieved in a Leinster jersey since then, there was always going to be a nagging desire to want to put things right in green.

The Ireland captaincy may have arrived in the autumn of Sexton's career, yet the 35-year old is desperate to make every game count, as suddenly the clock moves quicker. When Andy Farrell first approached Sexton about being captain earlier this year, the pair came to an agreement that the responsibility would be reviewed on a campaign-by-campaign basis.

Despite the disputed nature of the season, there was no real reason for Farrell to look elsewhere, as the out-half was naturally kept on as skipper for the upcoming games.

The last few months have, however, afforded Sexton time to reflect on his captaincy style, including how he handles defeats.

"It hurts more when you are captain because you are the guy who is meant to be leading by example," he maintains.

"If you don't do that, it can be a hard place to have to stand and talk, and to try and lead really.

"It was a tough way to finish, but I've been happy with how I've been going with Leinster up to now and I just want to go forward now with this group.

"You're always searching for ways to get better and the leadership thing has come later in my career than most, but it's still not an excuse to not improve and to try and get better."

Even with 91 caps under his belt, Sexton's pursuit of perfection remains as relentless as ever. Soon after rugby was brought to a halt, he sought feedback from his team-mates, as well as the coaches, about how they perceived him as a captain.

"There is some stuff that I need to do better, but I'll keep that to myself," Sexton continues.

"It's very hard to talk about myself. You are probably better off asking someone else. I find it very hard to speak about what I would be like as captain because again, you might think one thing, but someone else might think another.

"One thing is, you have to just listen to the guys who are close to you - whether that's the coaches or the team.

"We made some bold decisions, especially in that Welsh game, and we came away with tries, but your decisions are still being criticised by guys who previously played the game and would have gone a different way - even though your decision has been vindicated by getting the try and then going and getting the bonus point, which could prove to be very important at the end of the tournament.

"It's just about keeping it in-house, looking for the opinion that matters, which is the coaches' and the other guys in the leadership group.

"All of them make decisions that don't come off and that's when you have to take the criticism with a pinch of salt."

Farrell may eventually decide to appoint a new captain, especially with the 2023 World Cup in mind, but for now, Sexton is his main man.

"It's always a privilege and an honour, and when he asked me to do it again, I was delighted," Sexton says.

"I wanted to make sure the guys thought I did a good job in Six Nations and I asked for some feedback around that.

"I think it was a good and bad time for the Six Nations to finish up for me. Obviously I had a bad personal performance against England.

"It was not a good head space to be in for a long time waiting for your next game, but it gave me a good chance to reflect on the leadership stuff and searching for that feedback on what I could better.

"I got some good insights and we worked hard as a leadership group over the time with Zoom calls, with different teams and different people, to try and improve ourselves as a group."

Come Saturday afternoon, Sexton will get a chance to finally rid himself of the frustrations of the last few months, as he looks to lead Ireland to a bonus-point victory which would keep his side's destiny firmly in their own hands ahead of next week's final day showdown in Paris.

"It's almost like we've started again," he adds. "It's not like we're playing on in the Six Nations, it's almost like a fresh start.

"There's guys here for the first time that are still getting used to the calls and a new way of playing.

"It feels like a little bit of both. A new start but we've got to get some of those new guys up to speed really quickly because we need to have a good performance on Saturday."


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