Johnny Sexton: ‘We’ll find out tomorrow where we are at’

Leinster outhalf brushes off criticism and ready to lead from the front in semi-final

On the November night Johnny Sexton was crowned World Player of 2018, his wife Laura was surprise at how relaxed he seemed despite the glitz and glamour surrounding them in Monaco.

“If I win it, it’s a stick to beat me with,” he told her. “If I don’t win it, I don’t mind.”

Constant criticism of Sexton’s performances – because of high water marks like the 2011 miracle final - is something he has shouldered since kicking a cup winning drop goal for St Mary’s College at the age of 16.

“It has probably gone to a new level,” he said on the eve of facing Toulouse at the Aviva stadium, “but it is something that I have gotten used to.


“I have been used to it since I have been in school. It’s not something I pay too much attention to. I know the facts. I know what actually happened.”

By this Sexton appears to mean his recent physical state and the cards he was dealt behind struggling Ireland and Leinster packs.

“I am lucky that I am surrounded by coaches that know the game really, really well. I listen to their advice and I try to ignore as much of the noise as I can.”

In the same breath the 34-year-old is only too aware about the public’s concern.

“It is hard too, because people want to come up to you in the street and ask you if you are okay. You know it’s bad when that’s happening! It’s something that you get used to with experience. I’m looking forward to getting out there tomorrow.”

Fear not, Sexton’s restart yips against Ulster have been banished.

With Augusta in the books, Dave Alred, the swing guru behind Francesco Molinari and inspiration to Jonny Wilkinson's finest hours, spent the past few days in Dublin.

“I’ve worked with him since I was 22. He always comes over and when he is available I always take him, because he is a brilliant. He tries to make himself available for these type of games. Hopefully I get to keep working with him for the foreseeable future.”

Sexton added: “I am happy to have got the issues sorted out with my leg.”

There is a pattern. Leinster have reached nine previous European semi-finals, winning four in 2009, 2011, 2012 and last year, each with the same outhalf at the helm.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen confirmed a hamstring injury to Jamison Gibson-Park has forced the selection of James Lowe on the left wing as Hugh O'Sullivan provides scrumhalf cover behind Luke McGrath. Michael Bent replacing the unavailable Andrew Porter and Cullen's continued preference for Ed Byrne over Jack McGrath leaves Leinster without two established international props on their bench.

"Obviously Leinster are unique," said Sexton. "We have such disruption through the Six Nations and then you come out the back of that and it is hard to manage the squad in terms of building to the quarters and a home semi-final in the league.

“The highs (of 2019)? Ulster were brilliant. That game will stand to us. But we’ll find out tomorrow where we are at.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent