Ireland out-half Sexton admitts competition for his shirt has put him on edge
JOHNNY SEXTON is relishing the competition for his No10 shirt that he knows is bubbling up behind him.
Perhaps it was because he was looking over his shoulder at the chasing pack that Sexton – as he puts it – “stupidly” played in Leinster’s Champions Cup clash with Castres on January 20.
In doing so he further injured his bruised calf, the latest in a line of problems that left him frustrated as he watched Paddy Jackson grow more into the jersey he had made his own over the past five years. “My body felt as good as it had done in years,” he said. “I felt under pressure to get back for that game because I wanted a run of games coming into the Six Nations. It was a tough decision but one I learnt from.” Sexton let all of his frustration out with the shake of his fist in the 50th minute of Ireland’s win over France on Saturday, the 31-year-old rubber-stamping a tour de force comeback with a 35-yard drop goal to push his side into a commanding lead. “There’s no one more frustrated and upset when I’m injured,” he said. “Sometimes you celebrate things but regret doing it, you’re pumped up and want to show people how much it means to you to play for Ireland.
“I’d missed it. It was great to be back in. It was a frustrating few weeks, to do so much hard work before Christmas and then to sort of undo it by being a bit silly and playing with a knock in the calf.
“It was really difficult but you get stronger with these things. You find out about a lot of people around you and about yourself.
“It’s important to bounce back. I’m sure I’ll have more injuries in my career, it’s just the nature of the game. But I’ll do everything I can now to remain as fit as possible.”
Twice in the past three years Sexton has been forced to sit out for prolonged periods – in 2014 after a series of concussions and then last November when he injured both hamstrings in quick succession.
That followed shoulder surgery in the summer but he points out that he has never been out with a long-term injury. “I spent a lot of time in Santry - six weeks to try and
make sure I found out the reason why I was picking those injuries up and I felt I did,” he told TV3. “I just played on a bad haematoma in my calf against Castres and paid the price. You live and learn.
“It’s unfortunate in many ways that if I get injured it’s in the papers. There are guys at Leinster who are injured and haven’t played for two years. That puts me in perspective.
“It’s not as bad as it’s made out to be and I feel very fortunate. I’m surrounded by guys who have had their career cut short by injury, they’ve had nine months, a year out or have retired at 24 or 25. I look at it a different way.”
In fact, Sexton believes his best could be yet to come. “I hope it will make me stronger, I can get a string of games now and I’ll hit my best form,” he said. “I feel I’m on the verge of hitting good form but I’ve been stopped by a couple of niggles. Hopefully I’m over that now.”
Time, he knows, waits for no man. The Lions No10 jersey looks to be his again if he stays fit but behind him there is a cadre of hungry young Irish out-halves. “I’ve always had great respect for Paddy Jackson (inset), always seen how good he was and I knew what he could do,” said Sexton. “It was no surprise to me. He’s had a run of games, he played the South Africa tour and then he played the Australian game and the latter half of the New Zealand game. You’re seeing what he can do.
“We’ve got a great relationship and it’s going to be a great battle over the years. Then you throw in guys like Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery and Tyler Bleyendaal will qualify as well. The competition is only going to get stronger and it’ll bring the best out of all of us.”
Of the Six Nations title chase, Sexton is excited to be involved at the business end and cannot wait for the Wales game in Cardiff. He said: “We’re second and it’s very much in our own hands. We’ve to go to Cardiff and we realise how difficult it’s going to be.
“We know how small the margins are, Wales could easily have three wins and be going for a Grand Slam themselves.”
MISSED YOU Kicks, runs, celebrations and knocks – Sexton show on Saturday had it all WE’RE ALL BEHIND YOU Johnny Sexton attracts a crowd at the Aviva Stadium training session yesterday