Jerry Sexton’s unusual route to senior rugby at Exeter Chiefs

The secondrow made his debut against Gloucester having spent time in France

Jerry Sexton

has embarked on a road less travelled in pursuing a career in professional rugby. The youngest of a clan that includes

Ireland outhalf, Johnny, St Mary’s College centre Mark, and sister Gillian, the 6’5”, 21-year-old, has already gathered a few stickers for his suitcase, despite his tender years.

The journey has taken him from the classrooms and pitches of St Mary’s College in Rathmines, initially to the massive physicality of French ProD2 club rugby in first Auch, and then briefly, Mont de Marsan, where the raw aggression and brutal collisions of the forward play offered a throwback to a bygone era of elite French club rugby, to latterly, the south coast of England.

Sexton played for Auch’s Espoirs (under-23 side), spending a great deal of time in the gym as the club looked to build bulk on his frame. When his one-year contract was up he moved to Mont de Marsan but had the emotional maturity to recognise that he wasn’t happy. He explained: “I realised after a couple of weeks it wasn’t for me. I asked to leave and the club were very good about it. They understood.”

Previously, he played underage rugby for Leinster and Ireland Schools, Leinster and Ireland under-20s, losing the season between those age grades to a dislocated shoulder. He endured the disappointment of being overlooked for the Leinster academy and looked on helplessly as a three-year contract with London Irish dissolved in the ether of miscommunication and propelled him towards France.

Premiership debut

Sexton’s capacity to maintain an even keel, taking positives from adversity, was a factor in propelling him to an Aviva Premiership debut for

Exeter Chiefs

in their defeat to Gloucester. He played the last 35 minutes, a reward for fine performances for the club’s shadow side, the Braves.

When the Mont de Marsan experiment didn't work out, his agent, former Ireland winger Niall Woods, proposed he take up an offer of a three-month contract with the Chiefs, to cover for club captain Dean Mumm, who had suffered a shoulder injury.

His contribution during that time prompted Exeter head coach Rob Baxter to extend his contract until the end of the season. Sexton enthused: “I love it over here. The club has been very welcoming. I am sharing a house with three other lads, two of whom have normal jobs and the other is the club physio.

Higher skill

set “I’ve discussed with Rob (Baxter) the aspects of my game that I need to develop. At Auch, they wanted me to bulk up so I spent a good bit of time in the gym. It was all about the maul and the scrum in France. Here my priority is to getting used to a higher pace of game with a much higher skill

set. Those qualities would be more representative of the background in the sport I came from in Irish rugby.

“I’m only 21 and as most secondrows play until they’re 36 or 37 [injury permitting] I’m hoping for a long career. I want to develop as a player, impress in training, and earn a chance to represent the club.”

He’s sought advice from his eldest brother when moving clubs and it was Johnny that encouraged him to take up the Chiefs offer.

“I always talk to him about things; I respect his opinion. He’d played against Exeter a few times in Europe and spoke highly of Rob Baxter. I’m glad that I have managed to persuade them to extend my initial three month contract.”

His mum Claire has already been over while dad, Jerry, and brother, Mark are expected over in the coming weeks.

He'd love to be involved when the Chiefs travel to take on Connacht in the European Challenge Cup on Sunday week, but lining out in the LV= Cup might be a more realistic ambition. The road is rising with him.