Johnny Sexton: ‘I am more confident about where we’re going than I have ever been’

Ireland captain looking for side to make statement against Scotland at Murrayfield

When Johnny Sexton wondered aloud in the build-up to the Italian game as to whether or not he'd complete this World Cup cycle it rather overshadowed the context in which he made the throwaway remark. This squad, he maintained, will "definitely be better" for the coaching and structures which are being put in place.

Considering how much of a Joe Schmidt disciple Sexton had been, and how much he flourished in the previous structure, it wasn't a comment he made lightly and on Wednesday he expanded on why he held this belief.

“The calibre of player, the calibre of coaches that we have,” was his starting point.

“Even after the Wales game I was unbelievably proud. We go down to 14 and the thing that you can’t account for is character and we showed that in abundance. There were a couple of mistakes early in that second half that we wish we could go back and do again, and it could have been a very famous victory for us. We still could have won it at the end, so we take big confidence from that.


“Against France, we took a step backwards because we didn’t see some of the opportunities that we had spoken about and we didn’t have the conviction to sort of go for it. We learned some lessons from that in terms of how we have a better intent to attack the game.

“Look, it’s not always going to be the way it was in terms of the opportunities presented themselves against Italy to run the ball, but if it’s not on this week against Scotland in a wet Murrayfield, then we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to do it to crowd-please. We’re here to win rugby matches and we get judged on that.

“But I said it to the lads before the Italy game that I am more confident about where we’re going than I have ever been. I’m still of that mind but we need to go out and keep proving it on the pitch.”

One of the changes wrought by Andy Farrell has been to empower the six-man leadership group to a greater extent. Half of them – Sexton, James Ryan and Peter O'Mahony – were missing against France but with Ryan and Sexton returning and Tadhg Furlong promoted to the starting line-up alongside Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose, all bar O'Mahony were present from the kick-off in Rome.

“I think, by nature, the larger group are quiet and even the leadership group are a quiet bunch,” Sexton admitted. “They lead by their actions more so than their words but I think they’ve really come out of their shell over the last year.

“Joe did have a leadership group but he didn’t encourage them as much as Faz does to really take ownership of it and drive things. It’s good both ways.

“Like, under Joe it was brilliant. You sit in, you get the plan, and you buy in and you do own it and you do take control of it but it’s just different. But it’s brilliant as well here, you’re trying to get guys to improve themselves as people, as leaders and the guys have been brilliant so far.”

Stuart Lancaster has sought to bring the more introverted Leinster players out of their shells more, and to that end has conducted personality tests.

“I hope he didn’t divulge any information on what personality traits came back, did he?” joked Sexton. “The ones Stuart did, the traits come back in different colours. Some lads were firmly in the red. Some lads were yellow and blue, and we had a lot of them and one or two reds, one of which moved on to another club.” This is assuredly in reference to Seán O’Brien, not one of life’s introverts.

“You learn a lot about yourself doing them. I was reluctant to do it for a while, it didn’t sit well with me but I did it. You learn about yourself and you learn about the other guys and how they react.

"When I first came in to Leinster you had Leo [Cullen], Shane Jennings, Brian O'Driscoll, Shane Horgan – these type of characters who were, I suppose, very similar to me. You'd do something and act in a certain way and they'd react well to it. They'd see positives in it.

“When you’re a senior player and guys come out of school, you just have to be different. They’re different people, they were brought up differently and it was a huge insight. I was delighted I did it. It doesn’t make you perfect in any way in terms of dealing with people, you’re always learning.”

As to the result of his own colour-coded personality test?

“Light blue,” he quipped with a smile, before admitting what even the dogs in the street know.

“I was planted firmly in the red!”