Johnny Sexton calls the shots for Ireland in role as driving force
Skills coach Richie Murphy says outhalf’s off-field distractions help his overall game
Ireland skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy at a press conference at Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Johnny Sexton of Ireland is tackled by Sean Maitland and WP Nel of Scotland during the Six Nations match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Johnny Sexton’s importance to this Irish team has never been under-estimated. That drop goal in Paris underlined as much, but for all the sharing of on-field decision making, it’s Sexton who remains the team’s on-field general and heartbeat.
His ability to take the ball flat to the line, read what’s on in an instant and execute has never been better. Most of Ireland’s line breaks have emanated from his playmaking skills and the variety of his distribution.
Despite the “glute” issues which restricted his training last week, his general game has never been better. Richie Murphy, who has worked with Sexton since 2010 as a skills and kicking coach with Leinster and then Ireland, attributes this to the changed priorities off the pitch, and namely becoming a father to Luca (three) and Amy (two).
“He is obviously a fair bit more mature than he was maybe at the start. He has got other worries which is probably a good thing for him because it will distract him from the game. But I think he is in a really good place. He is really hungry. He just wants to get better. He is one of those guys that although he knows a helluva lot about the game will take feedback and will work on it week in, week out.”
“I think he (Sexton) always had a good understanding of the game and now there are very few things that happen in a game that he hasn’t seen before. His presence within the group is much different to 2009 when he was quite a young player, how he works with others, how he deals with Conor (Murray) and Bundee (Aki) and those outside him, how he organises the forwards. Over the past number of years, that’s improved massively.”
Of course, in all of this there’s a danger that the team can become overtly Sexton-dependent, as has even happened the All Blacks in the past with Dan Carter. Save for the final half hour against Italy, when the game was won, the anointed understudy, Joey Carbery, has since been restricted to a cumulative 10 minutes in the wins over Wales and Italy.
“It is hard sometimes when you are playing behind someone that is running the team,” admits Murphy, “and if Johnny is fit and healthy he is running the team and at this moment in time he is a shoo-in. So Joey has to be patient. He is getting time during the training sessions to put his foot forward. But he hasn’t had a massive amount of match time.”
“One thing I will say about Joey is that he has taken on everything in his stride,” added Murphy. “He’s in the right place, he’s learning from Johnny and the two of them talk to each other all the time. There is a good two-way conversation and a bit of slagging which is nice. Johnny thinks he’s a great 15!”
For now though, that issue can wait. Murphy subscribes to the view that “there is quite a bit left” in this Irish team, albeit there will need to be this week. “We have won all our matches so far but going to Twickenham probably the performances that we put in so far probably won’t be good enough.”
Ireland know the prize at stake. “But you don’t concentrate on the prize, but on getting your bits right during the week. On Saturday the guys were obviously happy to win the championship but the focus flipped pretty quickly. We have won four, we have one to go. The things that have stood us in good stead over those first four weeks will bring us in to Saturday and whatever happens on Saturday, winning a championship was really good, but if there is something more on the back of it, then that will be a great thing.”
For a little escapism, pending today’s day off, Christy Moore again visited their Carton House base on Monday night. The highlight of the gig was Joxer Goes To Stuttgart according to Murphy. “We were trying to get him to sing ‘Joxer Goes To Twickenham’ but he couldn’t pull it off.”