‘I am who I am’ – Johnny Sexton apologises for reaction in Paris

James Lowe and Billy Burns among Andy Farrell’s squad for Autumn Nations Cup

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has apologised to Ireland coach Andy Farrell for the manner he reacted to being replaced by Ross Byrne in the Six Nations decider at Stade de France.

Sexton repeatedly shook his head in disgust when Byrne arrived on 69 minutes with Ireland trailing 28-20. Two minutes later Virimi Vakatawa’s sensational try made it 35-20 to the French.

“I spoke to Andy after the game and I spoke to him Sunday when I realised it was such a big thing,” said Sexton. “We sorted things out and I apologised and said, ‘Look it should not have happened. It did.’ Obviously I let myself down in that regard but then you move on really.

“It is not the first apology I have made in my career and it won’t be the last probably. We’ve got a good relationship. There are no problems going forward.”

Former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll described Sexton’s reaction as a “dreadful look.”

“You don’t realise you are going to be on the big screen,” Sexton continued. “If somebody said I was going to be on the big screen I am not going to do it. Yeah, if I had time to think about it I wouldn’t have done it but you are in the heat of battle, you are playing an international, it means a lot to you, you are captain of the team.

“I was disappointed in the performance as much as anything because ultimately the team performance, I got to make sure the lads are in a better place to do what they are meant to do.

“There is as much disappointment in the situation as there is in the substitution. Obviously I need to deadpan it and just walk off, like.

“I am who I am. I apologised to the people that matter but I am not going to sit here and apologise to the whole world because it is a split second decision that I wish I didn’t make but I did, so there you go.”

Farrell, who spoke before his captain from their bio-bubble in Carton House, “100 per cent” believes the situation is a storm in a tea cup.

“The last thing I want to do to Johnny is stop him being himself.”

When asked if he felt undermined, Farrell said: “No, not at all. Johnny is a passionate guy and it is a reason we all love him as a player for how long he has been at the top of the Irish game.

“I suppose there is always a bit of learning from every game you play but, no, I don’t feel undermined and neither do the team.

“We need Johnny to be himself and there is always going to be learnings along the way but you are not going to change overnight a person who has been at the top because of the intent and attitude he has got.”

Will the role of captain come under review, as Farrell previously indicated, before the 2021 Six Nations?

“Me and Johnny are always talking together. We speak most days. That is always ongoing. We have a conversation constantly to see where we are both at.

“In fact the last time was five minutes ago.

“We always discuss everything that goes on - we are always discussing his individual game, his captaincy, we are always learning together.”

Sexton rejected the suggestion that his game might be better off without the extra hassle of captaincy.

“Eh, no, I love being captain,” the 35-year-old calmly responded. “When Andy asked me to do it, it was the biggest honour of my career probably and I am incredibly proud to do it. I am trying to get better in the role, and always seek out opinions and talk to the lads and the management to see if I am doing a good enough job.

“No, it is not an extra hassle. I have dealt with it my whole career. I have reacted worse before coming off [most recently in Rome last year]. Obviously I wasn’t captain at the time but people are saying ‘is this okay now for players to do that?’ - of course it is not okay for players to do that but at the same time it is a split second reaction.

“Normally the cameras go to the player coming on, not the player coming off but obviously my French friends wanted to gather my reaction.”

Farrell’s decision to replace Sexton backfired as Byrne made a number of handling and kicking errors that gifted France possession. Sexton was asked if he addressed the substitution at such a crucial moment with the head coach.

“Of course I want to be on,” he replied. “That’s why I was obviously disappointed. I was also disappointed with how the game had gone up to that point because we didn’t play to our potential. They are the moments you train hard for and they are the moments you want to be involved in. I need to be better to make sure next time that I am on for those minutes. I got to be better myself to make sure I am there next time.”

The headshaking scandal overshadows Farrell's squad for the Autumn Nations Cups – the first game of which will see Ireland meet Wales in Dublin on Friday, November 13th. The squad includes three uncapped men – James Lowe, Shane Daly and Billy Burns. If selected they would bring the debuts in 2020 up to nine players.

Connacht outhalf Jack Carty loses out to Ulster's Billy Burns as Ross Byrne is also retained as Sexton's understudy.

Ireland squad for Autumn Nations Cup

Backs (16)

Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 28 caps

Billy Burns (Ulster) uncapped

Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 8 caps

Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 23 caps

Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Con) uncapped

Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 84 caps

Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 10 caps

Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 2 caps

Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 45 caps

Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 2 caps

James Lowe (Leinster) uncapped

Kieran Marmion (Connacht/Corinthians) 27 caps

Stuart McCloskey (Ulster/Bangor) 3 caps

Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 83 caps

Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary's College) 93 caps captain

Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 30 caps

Forwards (18)

Finlay Bealham (Connacht/Buccaneers) 11 caps

Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 15 caps

Ed Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 2 caps

Will Connors (Leinster/UCD) 2 caps

Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 17 caps

Caelan Doris (Leinster/UCD) 4 caps

Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 100 caps

Dave Heffernan (Connacht/Buccaneers) 3 caps

Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 55 caps

Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 13 caps

Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 3 caps

Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 69 caps

Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 28 caps

Quinn Roux (Connacht/Galwegians) 12 caps

John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) 21 caps

James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 28 caps

CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 43 caps

Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 26 caps

Read More