Johnny Sexton rows back on ‘throwaway’ retirement comment

Ireland captain had said on Tuesday that he may not be part of 2023 World Cup cycle

February 23rd, 2021: Ireland rugby captain Johnny Sexton is focusing on the immediate future having admitted that he may not still be playing by the next World Cup, which is due to be held in 2023, when the Leinster outhalf will be 38. Video: VOTN

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Rumours of Johnny Sexton’s impending retirement may yet prove premature. The 96-times capped Ireland captain has made it clear that a throwaway remark regarding this team’s World Cup cycle hasn’t changed anything really, other than he himself remains in one-year-at-a-time mode.

“What am I going to say? That I’m guaranteed to be at the next World Cup at my age?” Sexton said rhetorically when further questioned about his earlier remark.

He had previously commented that in the context of a World Cup cycle, “I might not be a part of the full cycle but this group will definitely be better for this type of coaching and structures.”

Sexton probably regrets the comment now, even if all he did was state the facts. He’s 35 and rather than having a deal through to France 2023, he has been offered a one-year contract which is “nearly” done.

“Well, sorry, it was just a throwaway comment in terms of talking about World Cup cycles and the journey that this coaching group are on with this group of players. All I said was that this World Cup cycle would stand to us in the way we’re trying to develop. Obviously I don’t have a three-year contract and it’s season by season. So it was nothing really.”

Future

The poor fella must be weary of being asked about his future, but this is not to say he won’t be offered another one-year deal on foot of that one, or that he won’t yet play through until the 2023 World Cup. Only time will tell.

In ruling out a post-playing career in coaching or punditry, Sexton made it clear he loves the game as much as he ever has; be it training, playing, and striving to win and succeed. But while he’d love to be a part of the game forever, he revealed that “there are some parts that you just can’t wait to get a million miles away from”.

This comment had clearly been sparked by recent events. Not for the first time in the build-up to an Ireland-France game it had been open season on Sexton in the French media, and by extension the Irish media, after some astonishingly loose and inaccurate comments by a French medic which he subsequently retracted.

Sexton was then a frustrated waterboy at the Ireland-France game after failing to complete his return-to-play protocols following the head injury he sustained in Cardiff a week beforehand.

Billy Burns, Sexton’s replacement against France, has copped some flak, and by extension those outside him, for not utilising an overlap and space out wide scarcely a minute into the game after a line-out steal when instead launching a Garryowen.

But Sexton clearly has some sympathy for him.

“It was absolutely bucketing down as we left the hotel after the team-talk but then you come out for the kick-off and it’s perfect. We prepared maybe to play a certain type of game and we didn’t adapt when the weather cleared up and the space was somewhere else. We were so focused on it being windy and rainy, terrible conditions, ‘let’s keep the ball ahead of the forwards. Let’s not play in our half’. And then suddenly things change.”

On Monday, Mike Catt had ventured that there were some deep thinkers in the team who needed to free themselves up a little in order to just play. In response to this Sexton, undoubtedly a deep thinker, said: “I think it’s more about our intent. We’re working on the structure of our attack to allow us to get the ball to wherever the space is. Then you’ve got to go and attack it, get all of the thoughts out of your head and play what you see.

“Sometimes guys are so determined to do well they can get in their own way and I’ve been that guy before where you’re so keen to do the right thing and you force it or you miss an opportunity because you’re trying too hard.”

Balance

“We spoke about that in terms of the balance between structure and getting our heads up and attacking to wherever the space is and doing it together and communicating to each other better.”

While these were the main takeaways from the France game, Sexton admitted this was “probably some of the lessons that we carried from last year, which is the annoying thing. To improve as a team you need to learn the lessons and not go back a step”.

The pressure is on the Irish attack, above all else, to take a step forward on Saturday in Rome.

“Yeah, there’s a massive onus on our attack. Since Faz has come in the thing that we’ve worked on the most is our attack in unstructured play. With Joe we were absolutely brilliant off set-piece and we had some real intricate plays and they worked for us and we were incredibly good at the breakdown and retaining the ball.

“But I think some of the conversations I had with you guys was the frustration in and around what we were doing in our phase stuff. Faz has come in, he’s changed that and we’ve expanded our game and there have been some games where we’ve done it really well for parts of the game.”

“But international rugby is like that, isn’t it? You don’t go out and dominate 80 minutes every game. That’s why it’s Test rugby, because it’s tough and it’s a battle and you don’t have your own way the whole time.”

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