Exeter and not exit will keep silent Sexton fully focused
Leo Cullen feels the fuss over the outhalf’s future is not ideal preparation, writes JOHN O'SULLIVAN
No matter how hostile the atmosphere, Sandy Park tomorrow evening will seem positively tranquil to Leinster and Ireland outhalf Jonathan Sexton when weighed against the contractual conjecture that has commandeered many of his recent headlines.
Sexton’s focus will remain resolutely on the task at hand, leaving others to debate whether his future lies with his current employers or with a French suitor. The player has understandably remained silent on the issue as negotiations are ongoing but each passing day brings a fresh chapter to a tale that will captivate right to the epilogue.
The latest plot twist involves Jacky Lorenzetti, the multi-millionaire owner of Racing Metro 92, regarded as front-runners for Sexton’s signature if he did decide to move abroad.
Lorenzetti, speaking to the French channel Sport 365, considers this line of speculation fanciful. It’s not that he doesn’t want the player, it’s just he doesn’t expect him to sign.
He pointed out: “The Irish are the Irish. They’re very attached to their homeland.
“ They often have a strategy of blowing their own trumpet and using other clubs, notably the French, who are renowned for paying well, to raise the stakes, up the bidding and better negotiate their contracts in Ireland.
“If I have helped Sexton to better negotiate his contract, then why not? The chances of Sexton coming to France are tiny and to Racing even more so.”
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt would be happy to accept such an outcome. There is no ambiguity in his wishes on the matter. “I think the IRFU are working really hard and I know they’ll do a good job. In the end they can put their best foot forward and Jonny will make a decision. He’s been a massive part of Leinster in the last four years and we’d like him to be a massive part for the next four years as well.
“I think he’s part of a really good group here and I think they enjoy that and the fact that he’s here. I think that will always be a factor in his decision making. His decision making is his own, I guess. For a player of his quality I know there’s going to be competition to get him.”
Leinster captain Leo Cullen suggested it was the publicity rather than the process that is the most striking aspect.
“That (contract negotiations) has always gone on in the background. It’s not usually as public as this. It happens when you have a high-profile guy, probably the highest-profile guy, it would be fair to say, in Irish rugby. It’s not ideal.
“You have to be aware that there is going to be interest from overseas, especially with the way the market is in France. They’re pretty aggressive in trying to sign guys at the moment and there is a lot more money in the Top 14 than anywhere else.”
Cullen’s appraisal of Sexton and his impact as a player on his team-mates is instructive.
“He’s an incredibly driven person, who will do everything to the nth degree; that’s what separates him from everyone else. You can see it even in his body language in games.
“He wants . . . he demands success for everybody else. He hasn’t got a problem bawling some guy out of it and it happens pretty regularly in training.
“You might see it in a match as well, it’s only because of what he wants himself and it separates him from everyone else. It’s his drive to be the best he can be and he wants to make sure that everyone else on the team is coming up to that level as well. He’d be a massive loss for us and hopefully he’ll still be Leinster player next year.”
On the pitch ahead of tomorrow’s seminal pool game – the team will be announced today at lunchtime – against the Exeter Chiefs in Devon things are less fraught. Schmidt confirmed Brian O’Driscoll had taken a full part in yesterday’s training session.
He explained: “Structurally, there was nothing wrong at all with the ankle. There was a bit of swelling to be controlled. And if you train on an ankle that’s swollen, there tends to be more swelling. So we gave him a bit of time earlier in the week to get past that period.
“He trained well today. He’s certainly in the frame for selection. Nobody is ruled out at this stage. ”