Sexton...the Irish rugby folklore

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:12

SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: Johnny Sexton felt a bit part player in the 2009 Grand Slam Irish winning side but on Saturday the masterly flyhalf basked in the glory of his country's 2018 sweep.

The 32-year-old may not have played a full role in the 24-15 win over England - he went off in the second-half - but it will be his stunning drop goal after a 41-phase move which secured the Irish a remarkable victory over France in the last seconds of the first game that defined their Grand Slam campaign.

"It is all about fine margins and we looked dead and buried," said captain Rory Best referring to the France game.

"But how special was that kick from Johnny and the reward for that was the Grand Slam glory,"

Teaming up for the 50th time with scrumhalf partner Conor Murray, he was content to sit back and pull the strings and let the younger legs do the running in the first-half.

But both men were pivotal in a try for the visitors to settle the nerves in the first-half.

Sexton's humdinger of a Garryowen rightly testing out Anthony Watson who failed the examination and 23-year-old Garry Ringrose touched down.

"He is such a fantastic contributor," head coach Joe Schmidt said of Sexton.

"He runs such a sharp game, his kick was pinpoint. He is just such a good decision maker."

Murray's sublime pass bookended the three Irish first-half tries releasing Jacob Stockdale with the prolific try-scorer needing no second invitation going on to score after a superb chip by himself.

"That pass was sublime by Conor, I don't know how he managed to get it away," said Schmidt.

Another of the young brigade Joey Carbery slotted over the conversion as Ireland's playmaker-in-chief Sexton was off the field after suffering a bleeding nose in a challenge.   

Schmidt says sometimes he would prefer that Sexton didn't get so involved in the game and that must have been one such moment as his going off came with the Irish on the back foot having had Peter O'Mahony sin-binned.

However, New Zealand-born Carbery kept a cool head aided by Murray's experience and advice to see out 10 minutes as the half went into stoppage time and made easy work of a tough conversion for his fellow 22-year-old Stockdale, who has shown no fear at the elevated level of Tests with 11 tries in his nine games.

In the scrum, former Ireland Under-20 captain James Ryan, who has played more matches at Test level than for his province Leinster since making his debut last year, also shone.

Flanker Dan Leavy jokingly said Ryan called himself the 'big cheese' but the lanky 21-year-old Leinster man has every right to adopt the monniker after another standout performance which saw him keep one of Schmidt's most faithful retainers Devin Toner cooling his heels for over an hour of the match.   

The one area where Sexton's confidence appears to have drained away, though, is his goalkicking ever since the Wales game and once again he missed with a straightforward looking penalty.

Indeed it was Murray who stepped up to add the three points on the hour mark with Sexton still on the pitch and although the latter departed soon afterwards he was back with a beaming smile on his face once the final whistle went.

Agence France-Presse

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