Sexton driven by own chapter in Leinster’s European story
Leinster outhalf says back-to-back champions Saracens will not be fazed by Aviva
Leinster outhalf Johnny Sexton: “Saracens are back-to-back champions and we are sort of striving to get back to where we were and become that champion team ourselves.” Photograph: Inpho
Johnny Sexton understands that success is where preparation and opportunity meet so he isn’t distracted by extraneous circumstances. He’s not looking for omens or good luck charms because that is counterintuitive for those who invest in detail, introducing an element of chance, and while that is present in sport, it plays no part in the planning process.
What the Leinster team bring to the pitch on Sunday will be the ultimate arbiter in deciding the outcome. The same applies to Saracens. It won’t directly matter that the Irish province is the number one seeded team having won all six pool matches, or that their opponents are the two-time and defending European champions.
There is no measurement in the build-up to gauge the legacy of Ireland’s Grand Slam success at Twickenham on those involved in Sunday’s European tie, something on which Sexton alighted: “Look there is a few left-over players that are playing for Saracens and there is a few playing for us but I think it is totally different circumstances.
“They are back-to-back champions and we are sort of striving to get back to where we were and become that champion team ourselves. We came close last year. We weren’t quite good enough. We are hoping to take that experience and put it into our lessons for this week.
“It is going to be a huge challenge, I don’t think they will have any fear based on what they did last year,” he said in a reference to the English club’s semi-final win over Munster at the Aviva stadium.
Saracens victories on the road in Europe, an extensive back catalogue over the past two seasons, illustrates that they aren’t going to be fazed by a hostile backdrop in terms of colour and noise. Sexton said, when asked whether home advantage would be negated by the visitors’ record on their travels: “I still think it is an advantage playing at home.
“We are going to have a crowd of 50,000 apparently and that’s a big factor, a big motivating factor; you don’t want to let those people down so I don’t think it is negated fully but I do think they will have no fear. They thrive off these atmospheres, it is that ‘against the world’ (vibe) and they seem to play their best under those circumstances. You saw it last year at the Aviva when the Aviva was (Munster) red and they produced a brilliant performance to beat Munster in the end.”
Saracens and England outhalf Owen Farrell sat out his club’s weekend victory over Harlequins with a thigh injury and Sexton smiled when asked whether he’d prefer Farrell to be in the visiting team come Sunday rather than see the London club and the game deprived of an outstanding player.
“Not really, no. If we get a win I’d be pretty happy. They have an outstanding back-up in (Alex) Lozowski. He has played for England himself numerous times and impressed when he has played. He did pretty well against Harlequins last week.
“Look, any team in the world would miss Owen, whether it is at 10 or 12. You don’t get nominated for world player of the year for nothing. He has been outstanding for the last 24 months and I’m sure they are desperate to have him back. If we get a win on Sunday we don’t mind who we are playing.”
Less chance in Farrell’s absence of getting a smack on the nose too, as happened at Twickenham? “Yeah, look, we’re good mates. I’m pretty sure it was accidental. That’s what he says anyway,” Sexton continued.
Positive contributory factor
In an interview over the weekend Stuart Lancaster spoke about a text message he received from Sexton when weighing up an offer from Leinster and how much of a positive contributory factor it was in helping him the decision.
The Ireland outhalf was asked why he sent the text. “It was probably from being involved when Joe (Schmidt) first came into Leinster. A few of the senior players met him. I remember Joe saying at the time that was a big contributory factor to him taking the job.
“He knew a lot about Leinster from looking on. But, he didn’t know the individuals. By meeting him, it made him feel more comfortable. It was the same with Stuart. Leo (Cullen) had been talking to him and I had spoken to a few of the English boys, spoke to the Farrells (Owen and his Dad, Ireland defence coach Andy) about him really.
“They spoke very highly of him (Lancaster) and it was something we needed at the time, someone to come in and help and he has been brilliant since he has come in.”
In the build-up to Ireland’s Grand Slam game against England Sexton spoke about how difficult he found the preamble and how he just wanted to get it over with. So does he feel the same way this week? “I probably didn’t express that right. It was a tough build-up to it.
“We had the strange situation of knowing we were going to lift the trophy but what you really want isn’t the trophy, it’s that bit of history, the Grand Slam. So, it was a very strange week.
“This week, the closer the game gets, it’s still only Monday and it’s a Sunday game, but we are desperate to get back to those big European games and this is one of them, to try and stand out and get to another final.
“There is internal pressure that is driving us, definitely, and this team wants to create its own bit of history, in terms of a lot of the guys who had that success have moved on now and there are only a few of us left and we want to start our own little chapter in Leinster’s story.”