As he plots Cheika’s downfall, Sexton holds fond memories of his old coach

Henshaw also comes for special praise from the Player of the Year nominee

Speaking ahead of Saturday's clash with Australia, The Irish coach and players preview the last of the November tests. Video: Daniel O'Connor

 

Jonathan Sexton offers an umbilical link between the coaching regimes of Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt at Leinster. His anecdotes in chronicling the two men as coaches and as people are delivered with a smile and the occasional chuckle but they also provide an insight into his development from a tyro, long on impatient ambition, to an outstanding international outhalf, shortlisted for the IRB World Player of the Year.

The two coaches have nurtured, cajoled and to a large extent shaped the player that Sexton is. Cheika got first crack. “When you are hungry and when you want to get into the (Leinster) team you are a bit delusional at times. I have to admit, how I thought I could get in instead of Felipe (Contepomi) or Gordon (D’Arcy) or Brian (O’Driscoll), looking back now it was a bit silly.

“We had some run-ins; I wanted to play more. But eventually he gave me my first chance at Leinster and I always be grateful for that. Especially in our latter years in Leinster I had a great relationship with him. I have learnt so much from him in terms of character and trying to drive standards and what’s expected of professional rugby players. I can’t speak highly enough of him.

“They both have similar philosophies that they want to play with the ball in hand. Cheika comes from (the) Randwick (club) and that’s the philosophy and Joe has a similar philosophy. Joe has things that are slightly different but I won’t go into the ins and outs of it.

Both fiery

Sexton laughs as he recalls being targeted physically by a Cheika coached Waratahs’ side while playing for the British & Irish Lions. “We had a good laugh about it after the game. It wasn’t dirty or malicious or anything like that. It’s not all about Cheiks this week and he’ll probably say the same thing. It’s about Ireland against Australia and the threats they pose; trying to stop them. We have enough on our plate.”

Australia’s four changes for the weekend include the return of Matt Toomua at inside centre, a player that excelled in the corresponding fixture last season. Sexton admitted: “We were pretty surprised that Toomua hadn’t played in the games before, we were so impressed with him in the game last year.

“He seems to be a nice foil for the 10 because he has played there and when you have a guy that has played a lot of 10, he can give you good information that can make your life a lot easier. We saw the influence he had against us last year; now he comes in (but) we kind of predicted that.

Form outhalf

Bernard Foley

“You have to respect the guys inside and the guys outside so it I would say Joe (Schmidt) drew a lot of similarities with the South African back line but I would say they (Australia) will test us in ways the South Africans didn’t. They are intelligent rugby players and we have to be ready for things we haven’t seen before.

Robbie Henshaw acquitted himself admirably against the Springboks at inside centre. He shifts out one place hoping to corral an Australian backline that is as nuanced in their attacking patterns as anyone, including New Zealand.

Sexton enthused about the young Connacht centre. “I think Robbie has come along so much in the space of 12 months. This time last year he came on against Australia and he probably didn’t do himself justice.

“But the improvement in a year has been phenomenal and that’s down to the work Pat (Lam) is doing in Connacht and Joe (Schmidt) getting his hands on him too. He’s come on leaps and bounds; l have been so impressed with him.”

On his IRB nomination Sexton admits while being flattered his focus is on Saturday’s game. “When you get nominated for an individual award you have to thank the guys you are playing with and the coaches you are playing under; especially when you are an outhalf, you are only as good as the guys around you.

“It’s a sign of the team in the year we had. It’s nice to be nominated but it doesn’t normally go to the northern hemisphere player. If I start thinking about it it is only going to end badly on Saturday. It’s about putting in a performance for Ireland getting another big scalp.”

Good teachers, diligent pupil.

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