Sexton in no rush to give up his place
IRFU policy a big advantage for players says Ireland ace
The look on Jonathan Sexton's face said it all.
The legitimate question came from the floor on whether Joey Carbery needs to experience the pressure of international rugby from the first whistle rather than at the last in Australia in June.
"I will have to ask Joe that," said Sexton, with a smile that suggested otherwise. The Ireland out-half doesn't give ground, not to an English juggernaut pack, not even to a Leinster and Ireland colleague.
The chat about coach Joe Schmidt looking at the possibility of resting Sexton and Conor Murray for the summer tour to give Carbery and Luke McGrath or Kieran Marmion game time in green is not one Sexton wants to entertain.
It is understandable, given how the 32-year-old had to bide his time in behind Felipe Contepomi at Leinster and Ronan O'Gara at Ireland. He fought long and hard to get into those coveted shirts.
The competitive instinct that propelled his journey into them is what keeps others from it. It has always been the way.
Sexton probably struggles with the fact he has finished out 80 minutes just once from his seven internationals this season.
The management of Sexton's minutes is based around a long-term plan. It is what has taken him this far in light of how he puts himself in harm's way.
For instance, Ireland's best and most important player has played 440 minutes for Leinster this season and 491 for his country.
"We are well looked after, so the amount of minutes you play in a season is calculated," he explained.
"Our whole game minutes are planned, so we can go to Australia, so we can play for Ireland in the summer tours, that we are still fit and ready to do it. I would like to go, yeah," he issued.
The IRFU's player welfare policy ensures the men in green get to the Six Nations in the best possible shape compared to, say, England.
"When we finished The Lions tour, we had three weeks off and then we had six weeks pre-season with a three-week block off in between.
"The English boys had three weeks holidays and then started playing pre-season games," he stated. "That's not great physical preparation to turn around from the Lions tour."
Of course, this was a familiar scenario for Sexton when he departed Leinster for a two-year hiatus in Paris.
"I had been on the other side of the fence before when I moved to France in 2013.
"I had three weeks off and then I played a pre-season friendly a week-and-a-half later, maybe two weeks."
It was something Sexton only fully appreciated when he was away. It is also a competitive advantage Ireland played on as they looked in control of the Grand Slam decider for the most part at Twickenham.
There was even a sense of sympathy towards the English.
"It is not an ideal preparation," said Sexton. "I would say it is a key reason why some of their players have been injured - it's not the only reason.
"I think our freshness told in this campaign compared to other countries."
"In France and England, the game is controlled so much by the Leagues that it is very difficult to manage the players.
"I think it is an advantage, the fact we have probably played half as many minutes as the guys we are playing against.
"It is not so much the management through the competition, it's those periods after Lions tours, before or after World Cups when it's very easy for clubs to pull their players back in quickly."
This is where the holistic approach of the Irish system is a benefit.
"It is the IRFU really that deserve credit for the central contracting which allows us to play in big games throughout the season.
"It doesn't guarantee performance. It just helps."