Leinster hopeful Johnny Sexton can be persuaded to return

Outhalf weighs up offer of one-year extension from Racing Metro

Johnny Sexton in action for  Racing Metro against Harlequins in last year’s Heineken Cup. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho.

Johnny Sexton in action for Racing Metro against Harlequins in last year’s Heineken Cup. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho.

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 22:30

As Johnny Sexton weighs up offers to return home or stay in France, with Racing Metro exercising their option of offering him a one-year extension, Leinster remain hopeful the IRFU and the province can convince him to relocate to Dublin.

Sexton has expressed a desire to have his future resolved sooner rather than later, and with his wife Laura having given birth to their first child Luca during the summer, there would be a strong case for being back amongst their respective families.

But against that, the offers for the best outhalf in Europe would invariably be more lucrative in the Top 14 and Sexton’s agent Fintan Drury would probably encourage Sexton as to the benefits in the longer term on his rugby CV by extending his stay in France.

The inevitable accompanying speculation over the next few weeks, or months, is not necessarily something that Matt O’Connor would see as a distraction. “It’s probably a good concern to have if Jonathan was potentially going to come back and play for us,” said the Leinster coach with a smile yesterday.

“We know that he’s off contract. Those conversations have been ongoing. He speaks regularly with a lot of the guys in our environment. We’ve still got good links with Johnny. We’d be very keen to have a conversation if he chooses to come back.”

World class

In any event, O’Connor admitted: “Of course you’d like him back. He’s a world-class player and he’s proven that across the course of his career.”

His assistant coach Richie Murphy, who has had a longstanding working relationship with Sexton as a kicking coach with both Leinster and Ireland, reckoned “there is a chance” of the player returning home, while adding: “Obviously it will be Johnny’s decision at the end of the day, but from our point of view he’s a world-class player, he’s a Leinster boy – and I think he still is a Leinster boy at heart. And I think it would be fantastic if we could get him home and hopefully that’s the way it will go.

“We’ve had some texts and some small chats but we haven’t actually been talking about the situation. Because of the relationship I don’t really want to get involved with that stuff. I’m better off just leaving that to him, his agents and the people who are looking after his contracts.”

Encouraging

Presumably too, Joe Schmidt would be encouraging Sexton to relocate to Leinster, while the province’s Pro12 triumph last May and positive feedback regarding Matt O’Connor would be helpful too. Acknowledging that succeeding Schmidt had been “a massively tough job” for O’Connor, Murphy added: “it took players a little bit of time to get used to how he does things, which is different to Joe. Both of them in their own right are fantastic coaches.”

“We weren’t playing fantastic rugby all year but we were actually very hard to beat,” added Murphy, citing the high of the win away to Northampton but the costly home defeat a week later which consigned them to that losing quarter-final in Toulon, where “we made a couple of bad calls and all of a sudden the game went away from us.

“So it was important to see how the players reacted from there on in and it was very positive. The players took good ownership in what they’re trying to do and this year I think you’ll see more of Matt coming out in the team than you probably did last year.”

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