‘He is so important to Ireland’s attacking structure. He’s that on-field coach’

WHILE YOUNGER MEN around him grabbed more of the immediate plaudits, 35-year-old Johnny Sexton delivered one of his finest performances for Ireland as Andy Farrell’s side beat England in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Robbie Henshaw was man of the match, Tadhg Beirne shone again alongside the brilliant Iain Henderson in the second row, and Tadhg Furlong showed his quality at tighthead prop.

But Sexton’s contributions, including his 22 points, were essential to Ireland finishing their championship on a high, as discussed by Eoin Toolan, Gavan Casey, and Murray Kinsella on today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra – an analysis podcast available to members of The42 every Monday.

Gavan: “Johnny Sexton had his best game of the championship and probably his best game for Ireland since 2018, and proved again how important he is to this team. He actually really embodied a captain, even in the aggression with which he carried the ball to the line which felt like a catalyst for what Ireland did well.

“Eoin, it’s some response, given that some people have been waiting for somebody else to put their hand up, step up to the mantle and replace them. It’s kind of a do-or-die game for this whole team and one of the guys who stands up most is a 35-year-old who has probably had the weight of a country on his shoulders in the last couple of years.”

Eoin: “To get a run of games back-to-back has been important because with Covid it has been a truncated season and he just needed a run of games. 

“He is so important to Ireland’s attacking structure. He understands how the coaches want to play and he’s that on-field coach, he manages the team so well. His goal-kicking, he was 25 from 26 in the Six Nations, which is incredible. There were important kicks to go three, six, nine against England and build the scores. 

“His kicking out of hand was good and he threatened the line on a couple of occasions. I don’t think anyone has ever doubted Johnny’s quality.

Sexton has been excellent off the tee. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“As importantly, we talked about Ireland’s scrum and lineout being a weapon again. It is probably something that had regressed in the past 12 to 18 months but it’s certainly a strength of Ireland’s again that they can launch from and puts Ireland on the front foot.

“Any 10 worth his salt needs his forwards going forward and that was Ireland’s best performance in that regard.”

Murray: “As you say, Gav, he epitomised the aggression levels. It almost gets missed because he’s so good at it but he is easily the best defender of any option Ireland have ever had at 10 and he’s still one of the best defenders amongst backs in the game.

“If you look at his aggression in the tackle, it is just astounding. I’m sure loads of coaches have told him to take it a bit easier on himself but he just has that spirit in him and it’s definitely infectious. 

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“What you’re like as a defender and competitor is a massive, massive part of the game.”