Sexton puts in good show against Perpignan as he finds feet in Top 14
Ireland’s outhalf reveals how he is settling in both on and off the pitch in France
Ireland and Racing-Metro outhalf Jonathan Sexton (left) puts in a tackle on Perpignan hooker Maxime Delonca in the Top 14 game at Yves du Manoir stadium in Colombes. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)
A month and five games into a long, hard season, Jonathan Sexton appears to be finding his feet in French rugby.
The Irish outhalf put in a strong display in Paris on Sunday as Racing Metro beat Perpignan –- the highlight s his role in the home side’s only try.
Doing a good impression of a fleet-footed wing, Sexton brushed off two challenges, somehow managed to stay in play and fed Benjamin Fall to go over for the score.
“I was happy enough,” he said of his performance. “I got all my kicks, [made] a couple of breaks.
“But I snatched at a drop goal and maybe misjudged it in the first half off a penalty when the wind picked up and I just dropped it badly.
“Listen, I suppose it’s easy to beat yourself up but it’s because you’re in such a different environment.”
The weekend matches ended a run of three games in nine days for Top 14 clubs.
Although Perpignan sent a weakened team to the French capital, they still pushed Racing all the way.
“The thing that we’re learning, for the new players, is that every game is so tough,” Sexton observed. “A lot of teams send their so-called second team for away games. But because the squads are so big, a lot of the time the seconds and the firsts aren’t far away.”
Good communication is vital for a number 10 and although Sexton is only learning French, he seems well able to direct his team-mates into position.
“It’s getting easier,” the 28-year-old said. “It’s easy for me to sort of shout and bark at people or try and organise them but it’s whether they understand me.
“With some of the pronunciations and stuff like that they kind of look at me. I try out maybe two or three variations and eventually they go ‘oh, yeah, yeah, yeah’. I don’t know which one I got right but they twigged one of them.
“Calling the guys around the pitch isn’t too bad. It’s just during breaks in play it’s maybe difficult to say ‘listen, maybe next time you could run a bit closer to me or run a bit further away’, or trying to tell the scrum halves what we should do.
“That’s where the difficulty comes ... It’s all a big challenge at the moment and I’m happy trying to live up the expectations, I suppose.”
Sexton’s team-mates have made him feel at home and all the new signings are showing signs of improvement. But it is not just on the field they have to adapt.
“Just getting used to the way the French prepare on the day of a match is so different to what we do at home.
“We just rock up at home two hours before the game, maybe whereas here it’s like meet up at 10 o’clock in the morning for a six o’clock game. There’s meetings in the morning to get focused. Everything’s different. You just have to embrace it but at the same it takes a bit of getting used to.”
Anyone who has moved abroad can attest that it takes time to feel settled.
Sort stuff out
“Normally when you finish training you go home, you relax, you try and take your mind off it, whereas here the first few weeks I was spending three or four hours trying to sort stuff out in the evening and get set up. That was difficult but thankfully it’s settling down now.”
Add in French bureaucracy and acclimatisation can get tougher still but the Ireland international does seem to be absorbing the language.
“We have classes twice a week and I try to do a half hour, an hour or two hours in the evening time by myself.
“I’m picking it up well enough –I’ve got bits. Some days I feel I’m getting really good and some days I feel like I’m going backwards.”
After a couple of days off, Sexton’s focus will switch to another big game, away to Bayonne, on Saturday.
“They just come thick and fast,” he says. “They don’t get easier. That’s the beauty of it and the challenge as well.”