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Johnny Sexton: Ireland captain puts longevity down to resilience ahead of 100th cap

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Published in Rugby
Wednesday, 27 October 2021 02:20

Johnny Sexton says his longevity in international rugby can be attributed to his ability to bounce back from disappointment as the Ireland captain prepares to win his 100th cap.

The veteran fly-half is primed to reach a century in the Autumn Nations Series opener against Japan on 6 November.

"I have certainly built up experience with lots of ups and downs in the last 10-12 years," said Sexton.

"I think one thing as a 10 you have to have is the ability to bounce back."

A three-time Six Nations winner, Sexton has endured a frustrating year with Ireland's third-place finish in that tournament followed by his exclusion from the British and Irish Lions squad as Warren Gatland opted to bring Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell on the tour of South Africa.

The 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year has also struggled with injuries this year, missing the Six Nations defeat by France because of a head knock before forced off during Leinster's Champions Cup quarter-final win over Exeter Chiefs in April after having a head injury assessment (HIA).

"You have days that do not go to plan, sometimes when you least expect it," added the 36-year-old, who declared himself fit for the Japan game at Aviva Stadium after overcoming a "hip niggle".

"I hope I have always done that well [bouncing back]."

'I have been blessed'

Having helped Leinster to European Champions Cup glory, Sexton made his international debut in Ireland's comprehensive 41-6 win over Fiji in November 2009.

Then a fresh-faced 24-year-old, he impressed at the first opportunity, landing all seven of his kicks to earn the man of the match award.

Even with that smooth initiation into the Irish set-up, Sexton admits that "never in a million years" would he have thought he would reach 100 caps for his country.

And he credits the influence of role models such as former New Zealand second row Brad Thorn at Leinster and Paul O'Connell with Ireland for helping him thrive at the pinnacle of the spot for more than a decade.

"I had great role models like Brad Thorn came to Leinster at 37 and we won the European Cup together," said Sexton.

"I used to watch him for every day for six months and learned so much about pre-match preparation.

"Paul O'Connell [former Ireland captain] is another one and played to the same age as I am. With professional rugby you need a little bit of luck you are one injury away from the end.

"I have been blessed. [Former Ireland and Leinster team-mate] Jamie Heaslip's career was cruelly finished tackling a tackle bag before a game.

"It is crazy how a career can finish like that."

'I want to be a role model'

Sexton has taken on added responsibility with Ireland after succeeding Rory Best as captain following the hooker's international retirement following the 2019 World Cup.

The Leinster talisman says he hopes Ireland's young guns can learn by studying him as he looks to help head coach Andy Farrell develop the country's next generation.

"It has been a new responsibility for the last couple of years," he said of the captaincy.

"I always try not to be overbearing and going up to the young lads.

"I was always like that. I learned more at looking at people and how they conducted themselves and they were great role models.

"I was a sponge, I did not tap them on the shoulder. I went to watch them. I want to be a role model on the pitch and develop people that way."

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