IT CAN’T BE easy being Johnny Sexton.
While he is amply rewarded for his rugby-playing abilities in a financial sense, the Ireland out-half’s health is a constant talking point for the rugby nation, and he is expected to consistently deliver world-class performances for Joe Schmidt’s side.
Add to that the savage pressure Sexton places on himself and it must be a stressful mix at times.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
In fairness to the 31-year-old, he virtually always steps up to the mark in terms of performance, but there will be even more onus on him tomorrow in Dublin against England [KO 5pm] without regular halfback partner Conor Murray.
One of the most notable aspects of the 10 minutes Sexton spent in the sin bin last weekend against Wales was how utterly rudderless Ireland looked without him on the pitch.
Paddy Jackson had stepped in to steer the ship during Sexton’s HIA, but without either out-half during the yellow card stint, Ireland sorely lacked someone who could fill the playmaking role and direct their phase-play attack.
Sexton starts against England tomorrow and will hope to complete as many of the 80 minutes as possible this time around, but has a brand-new halfback partner in Connacht’s Kieran Marmion.
“Conor is a world-class scrum-half and we’ve built up a really strong relationship over the last three years, maybe longer,” says Sexton. “He’d be a loss to any team in the world when he’s at his best.
“But Kieran has been outstanding for Connacht and has had to bide his time. I thought he did really well in difficult circumstances last week against Wales and he’ll be more confident for that effort.
“I’m sure he’s looking forward to showing people what he can do now, and even today [Thursday] was really the first session we’ve had together but we got on well and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can bring.”
Sexton gives Garry Ringrose directions at training yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
So just the one training session together. Marmion’s second Test start, the other having come against Canada last November. So the pressure increases on Sexton, but then he’s accustomed to feeling that burden, which is usually self-imposed.
“I feel pressure every game I play for Ireland and every game I play for Leinster because I put pressure on myself,” says Sexton.
“And guys around you put pressure on you, when you are vice-captain or captain you have got pressure automatically because you need to perform.”
Aside from the late blocked-down kick before Jamie Roberts’ try, Sexton looked sharp against Wales last time out, having starred in the win against France in round three after fully recovering from his latest injury.
The yellow card in Cardiff still appears to rankle a little, however.
“Maybe, I couldn’t have done anything different,” says Sexton when asked if it was a fair call by Wayne Barnes. “I was totally trapped underneath [Jonathan] Davies and my legs were wrapped over him.