Sexton: ‘It’s almost like a different game when you’re on the bench’
This was his first time on the bench since replacing Ronan O’Gara in 2011 World Cup
Johnny Sexton is expected to return to the Irish XV this weekend. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Johnny Sexton was hailed by Joe Schmidt for the manner he adapted to being back-up to Joey Carbery in last Saturday’s first Test. It’s abundantly clear that the established Irish outhalf enjoys a somewhat more harmonious relationship with his young pretender than was initially the case when he and Ronan O’Gara were duelling, but even so he admits it was a strange experience.
The ensuing friendship between Sexton and O’Gara was helped by a coach-player relationship for two years at Racing, and Sexton clearly understands the need for Carbery to be given more game time in the ‘10 jersey.
Even so, the role required some adjusting for Sexton who, being Johnny, cannot have been deliriously happy about it either. It was only his ninth Test off the bench for Ireland in his 74 caps, and the first time since replacing O’Gara in the World Cup quarter-final defeat to Wales in Wellington in 2011.
“It’s not something I’ve done in a long, long time with Ireland, so it needed a bit of getting used to - running the Australia plays all last week and then it’s almost like a different type of game when you’re on the bench. You’ve got a lot of nervous energy and you’re trying to figure out what moves we’ve played so you can play something different when you come on, so you’re sort of sitting there scratching moves off.
“It’s not something I’ve been used to with Ireland, I’ve done it a couple of times with Leinster but that’s why you want to start. It’s all about starting for everyone, you want to get that starting place?”
It won’t have helped Sexton’s mood this week that he replaced Carbery in the 57th minute with Ireland 9-8 ahead, which is a pretty crude way of analysing his impact, especially given his only error was a missed penalty to touch.
“Look, there’s lots of frustrations. There were frustrations for us for the whole game. Obviously, you guys will look at the last 20 minutes and say ‘Ireland lost the last 20,’ so you blame that, but that’s not how it works in our environment.
“We look at all the moments throughout the game and there were times when the subs came on that we created good opportunities and we didn’t quite take them. There’s other times where we lost a moment here or there that we would obviously be expected from the management team to do better. As a whole, we were disappointed with our level of performance throughout the 80.”
In any event, the unfamiliarity of defeat has now placed a huge challenge in front of this Irish squad, albeit one that Sexton will embrace and drive for much of this week, perhaps with the added role of de facto captain.
“It’s a good challenge,” he said from the team’s base in downtown Melbourne on Tuesday. “You learn a lot when you lose. We try and learn through winning and something we did quite well during the Six Nations. We improved even when we were winning, which is the sign of a good team, and now we’ve got to bounce back, show a reaction, and perform a hell of a lot better than we did last week.”