Sexton: ‘We did the Lions tradition proud’
Ireland international reflects on successful tour and impending move to Racing Metro
British & Irish Lions Lion’s Jonathan Sexton celebrates scoring a try
The man from l’Equipe could hardly believe his bon chance. The articulate Jonny Sexton came out to chat amiably in the glow of becoming a Lions series-winning outhalf, and as a spokesman for a starting XV which also included two other Racing Metro-bound stars, Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts.
The ambitious Parisian outfit, with Castres’ top 14-winning coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit already in situ, will be all the more optimistic after watching this.
Moments before the Paris-bound trio had been joking about meeting up again for pre-season which, incredibly, is July 29th. They are assuredly being well paid, but that’s taking a pound of flesh to extremes. Mindful of the toll on individuals after previous Lions’ seasons, you’d have thought it was in Racing’s longer-term interest to make some allowance and allow the trio at least a couple of weeks longer to revive themselves.
So continues what a slightly dazed Sexton understandably described as a whirlwind few months. There was his protracted negotiations with the IRFU (why on earth didn’t they just come up with the readies?) and his move to Racing, the perhaps not unrelated torn hamstring and foot injury which ended his Six Nations, a double trophy farewell with Leinster, this six-week long Oz odyssey and the not so minor matter of his impending marriage this Friday in Adare to Laura Priestley.
After a one-week honeymoon in Las Vegas, they move to Paris 16 days’ hence. “That’ll do for now. We’ll do a proper one next year hopefully. But it’s been a whirlwind these last few weeks and obviously another big chapter in my life coming up with the switch. It’s been crazy. I haven’t even had a moment to digest actually finishing up with Leinster and moving to a new club. I suppose that will settle in now over the next few weeks.”
Farrell motivation talk
Simply more dominant up front and more accurate, and emotionally as well as tactically primed, Sexton revealed that “Andy Farrell spoke brilliantly yesterday to the squad about having a different type of mentality, ‘We’re Lions and we have to be a step above what we expect at international level’. The lads really produced that tonight. Outstanding in defence, outstanding up front and we showedsome glimpses in the backs of what we were doing in the warm-up games and got a couple of nice tries near the end.”
Ultimately, the outstanding memory will be Saturday. “Today was the day that decided whether this was a massive success or a massive failure. Everything that had gone on before was irrelevant if we’d lost and it means everything now that we’ve won. It’s an incredible place to be in there with the guys, even the guys that didn’t tog out tonight, they’re . . . celebrating just as much as the guys that were on the pitch.”
Looking back, he regretted almost wishing the year away in advance of his cherished first Lions’ tour, and also shaking his head in disappointment when replaced by Owen Farrell, with whom he has forged a good friendship on this tour, if understandably so given the game was still not won. But now he could bask in the glow of the Lions’ 12th series win, thus being among a select group.
“This is huge for me, totally different. Everything you win is very special, even winning an Amlin trophy this year was special because we won it at home in front of the Leinster home crowd and with me moving on it was a special couple of weeks winning trophies, but this is just unique. You’re playing with guys you barely know. You have to forge that bond and I think you saw by the celebrations that we did that. We did the Lions tradition proud.
“It’s unique . . . It’s my first Lions tour so everything’s been different and really special from that point of view but that dressing room, it’s a bit surreal because I suppose when they last won it in ’97 I never thought I’d be in the next dressing room that won it.”
Reflecting on watching the ’97 win, he added: “I remember watching it in Ciss Madden’s with the Bective crew and that’s one of my first big rugby memories. Watching that Lions DVD, it’s a very special documentary and to be a part of something similar is really special.”
A rock of sense and an innately driven “slave driver” with attitude, Sexton pulled the strings masterfully and could take pride in his audacious, game-turning chip for George North and then orchestrating and finishing the ensuing try.
He said all the right things too when reflecting on the quandary of Brian O’Driscoll’s omission for this match. “Because I’m so close to Brian when he wasn’t picked it was tough for me . . . but as a professional sportsman you’re quite selfish in many ways as well, so after consoling with him for a few minutes it was then getting down to business.
“Jon (Davies) is obviously an outstanding player . . . he had an outstanding game. But for Brian to miss out from an Irish point of view was obviously devastating for him and as a close friend I was really sad to not see him there.
“But like I said, he’s delighted in there. That shows the mark of the man, and the way he spoke at training when he wasn’t involved . . . you know what I mean? It just shows the mark of the man, the way he acted.”
He has a nice dry line in humour though. And in this relaxed frame of mind, ventured good-naturedly: “It’s been a brilliant experience being part of it and for it to be a success is even more special. We’ll celebrate hard for the next few days . . . I said to the lads, ‘it’s an unbelievable memory to make my first Welsh cap, one I’ll remember forever’. It’s good crack and that’s why it’s so special.”