Even Pro12 rivals would welcome Johnny Sexton’s return
“It’s a great statement about the league, it’s a great statement about Irish rugby” – Leinster coach Matt O’Connor
Johnny Sexton’s mooted return from France to play for Leinster next season has been welcomed even by rival provinces. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
The great and the good of Celtic and Italian rugby assembled for the launch of the Guinness Pro12 yesterday, ironically in Londo,n at Diageo’s HQ in Park Royal, where the League’s CEO John Feehan referenced the 227 internationals from 14 countries who are registered for the forthcoming campaign.
The prospect of that contingent being supplemented next season by the prodigal return of Lions outhalf Johnny Sexton, also sent a frisson through proceedings.
Accepting the prospect of Sexton returning from next season was good for Irish rugby, the league itself and specifically Leinster, their coach Matt O’Connor said:
“He’s got a very significant decision to make in the next couple of weeks and I think, all things being equal, if that was to return home, it’s a great statement about the league, it’s a great statement about Irish rugby and it speaks volumes about Leinster in particular, in that he wants to be a part of that environment.
“If that happens, fingers crossed, it’s a huge statement.”
O’Connor reckoned he could inherit a better player than the one who departed over a year ago: “He’s world class. The Lions tour was probably the pinnacle of his powers. He’s undoubtedly developed his game in France. It’s probably a little bit of a development for him in the sense of his approach to how you can play the game and wherever he ends up next contract he’ll get incredible growth out of that time in Paris.
Significantly better“He’s had to look at different ways to win a game of footy and from that end he will be significantly better for it.”
Even without him Leinster retained their status as top Celtic dogs last season and have accumulated four major trophies since Munster won the last of their three League titles in 2011, and Anthony Foley admitted if more Munster players are going to break into an Ireland squad and team in which Leinster are bulk suppliers then “we’ve got to win those tournaments. That’s the bottom line”.
Yet he welcomed the enhanced Leinster firepower that would come with Sexton’s return: “I think it’s brilliant. If he wanted to come back and live in Listowel we’d accommodate him as well,” quipped the Munster coach.
“You want to control your best and he’s one of the best players Ireland have at the moment. It’s having him under the guidelines of the IRFU and having the control and being able to manage his welfare is paramount going into the World Cup. If you want a successful World Cup you need to look after your best players.”