No pointing of fingers at Johnny Sexton for that miss against New Zealand, it’s just the curse of being a number 10
In many ways the kicker is the bravest guy on a team, he has no place to hide
Ireland’s Johnny Sexton during the match against New Zealand. You put yourself out where there’s no hiding place. Make the kick and the team are heroes. Miss it and people talk about you for years. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
When it was all over on Sunday, your thoughts had to go to Johnny Sexton. It was harsh but it was unavoidable. Everybody could see that if he had kicked that late penalty to put Ireland two scores ahead, there’s no way the All Blacks would have pulled it out of the fire. Richie McCaw even said so afterwards.
This is the curse of being a number 10. Johnny had a really good game otherwise but when people talk about it in years to come, his kick is what they’ll automatically mention. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t even the losing of the game – Ireland had plenty of the ball in the last five minutes as they tried to close out the win. But there’s no getting away from it, that kick would have won it.
Something like that will happen a few times a season to any team. It won’t always be a kicker with a bad miss – it could be a sin-binning or a penalty given away at a crucial time in a game. That’s what it was in my case a few times anyway. How teams deal with it will always tell you a lot about the individual involved and the squad as a whole.
In Sexton’s case, nobody would have got stuck into him in the Ireland dressing room. Nobody would have given out to him or even made a snide remark. That only happens if your team is in a really bad place or if the player himself is either unpopular or has been consistently missing kicks. Or if he was blasé about it and didn’t look like it was a big deal to him. But none of that applies to Sexton and the Ireland team.
To be honest, it’s very rare that you’d be in a dressingroom where somebody has missed kicks and they’re getting hammered for it. It’s part and parcel of the game. That responsibility falls on one guy and even though it’s in the back of your head, you’re no sort of team-mate if you start pointing fingers.
It would have been the opposite to that on Sunday. People would have been consoling him and giving him sympathy. Johnny is someone who’d be known as being quite tough on himself so everybody knew that however bad they were feeling, he’d have felt worse. There’d have been no anger towards him.
For the individual himself, it’s a horrible situation. If you’re involved in something that was the winning or losing of the game, the sense of responsibility is huge. The great thing about team sport is the support structure you have and the amount of people who are willing to back you up and try to make you feel better.
But inside, you’re churning. You can’t help it. You know that in the same situation, you’d be going over to and trying to gee the fella up but you can’t bring yourself to see the bright side. Not immediately anyway.
It always took me a long time to get over individual disappointments. I know they were different circumstances than a kicker missing a vital chance but the feeling is similar. You know in your heart and soul that any game is made up of more than just one incident but that doesn’t make it any better. It was your mistake and you’re the one that will carry it the longest.