Unfazed Johnny Sexton returns for duty with Leinster

Defence coach John Fogarty not surprised outhalf ‘took a few bangs’ against England

Johnny Sexton is tackled by England’s Owen Farrell  at the  Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Johnny Sexton is tackled by England’s Owen Farrell at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

“He’s good. He’s back healthy. I think he’s in around the place,” says Leinster coach John Fogarty. As ever Johnny Sexton is on the radar. He was injured. He was seen leaving Aviva in a sling. He was hit late and high and often. Therefore he must be injured.

“I didn’t see him in any sling this morning,” adds Fogarty. “I don’t know how he left the pitch. He was certainly downstairs talking to the lads. As far as I am aware, he’s healthy. He’s good.”

Sometimes it seems like Sexton ought to be playing a brand of rugby with no contact, no risk and that Leinster should be sticking a preservation order on him. Sometimes be more angry.

His ever inflating reputation as a game shaper, a tactician and an outhalf willing to find contact as a preferred way of playing is one admirable trait. Late and high hits are less so but it has ever been thus.

“Clearly he shipped a few knocks,” says Fogarty. “Six was it? I think a couple of them were questionable. The Itoje one is questionable. If someone like Johnny – and Joey [Carbery] does it as well where they bring the ball to the line...they’re focusing on making sure they see the pass. It’s dangerous for them.

“I’m happy he got up every time. Johnny is an incredible competitive person. He’s going to want to stay on the pitch. He’s a hugely influential player. He took a few bangs but that’s the nature of the game. We’re certainly not cribbing at all and I don’t think Johnny cribs.”

As Sexton prepares to face Wasps in the European Champions Cup quarter-finals in April, Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes and James Haskell, members of the Wasps and England pack, will prepare to add to their reputations as non -shrinking violets.

Leinster are also walking a fine line. Sexton bringing the ball up almost invites collision, a risk reward way to play. The late challenges, say Leinster, can only be solved by the three officials. Rory Best was clearly heard conversing with Jerome Garces on Saturday letting him know that as captain he had a responsibility to his players as much as the French referee did.

Illuminating glimpse

“Rory did that very well at the weekend, him saying ‘I have a duty of care to our players’ – that was great to hear. And he does,” says Fogarty.

 That would be the same for us, but certainly from a coaching point of view we’re not going out there petrified that Johnny is going to be hit, and we’re not trying to care of Johnny. Johnny is playing a long time. That’s all I really have to say on it.

“I think at the moment, there’s a team of three referees out there. They’re in charge of making sure that the players play the game fairly and are nice and safe. We trust those guys to do their jobs. If we feel that it’s happening in a game, we can influence our players, our captain to have a chat.”

But Sexton will always be targeted. It is another banal truism of the game. As long as he can show he is vital, he is a threat and will be hit. A 12 week layoff in 2015 after a head injury, his hamstring, his calf, almost any body part has added to a growing legend.

But he is not going to change. Why? Because he’s a 31-years-old being true to himself and as sure as the world turns, he will always have bigger men hitting him.

“Exactly. I think that’s just the way it is,” says Fogarty. “I think they’re going to be. I don’t know about the other 10s, how often they were hit. There is a bit of attention to Johnny. But again, he’s healthy.

“You want to be looked after. Like I said, when you bring the ball to the line like that, right to the line, and Joey does the same, when you’re looking away...getting hit late is that bit dangerous to the side of your head, the side of your body because you’re a little bit exposed, in a weakened position.”

But Wasps will take out a commission for Sexton. It’s a fact.

“They will look to tackle Johnny. I don’t know what you want me to say. Genuinely,” says an exasperated Fogarty. “It’s not something that we’ve talked about or are worried about.”

Enough said maybe.

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