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head shot 'I’m a dad of three and a husband. I’m not going to be stupid' – Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton refuses to be made poster boy for head injuries as he bemoans French reports

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Ireland captain Johnny Sexton being treated on the pitch against Wales.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton being treated on the pitch against Wales.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton being treated on the pitch against Wales.

There is a weariness about Johnny Sexton as he pulls up a chair and glares into the laptop.

Once again, Ireland are playing France and the health of his brain is the main talking point after two French neurosurgeons speculated about his ability to play seven days after being removed from the defeat to Wales with a head injury.

Sexton is understandably unhappy with Dr Jean-Francois Chermann in particular. He was the independent neurosurgeon who stood the out-half down for three months in 2015 and Sexton clearly views his interview with French radio station RMC as a breach of trust.

But the war of words shouldn’t detract from the serious issue of how a player who looked in such discomfort on Sunday can be allowed to play this violent sport seven days later.

Sunday’s defeat to Wales was a bruising game and the image that lingers is that of Sexton reaching out his right arm to Dr Ciaran Cosgrave, steadying himself, as he left the pitch.

He’d been down for around three minutes after accidentally colliding with Justin Tipuric’s knee. First, he lay prone as play continued, before he sat up with the doctor and physiotherapist while also angrily exchanging views with someone nearby before being helped from the field.


Somewhat surprisingly, the skipper did his full post-match media duties; fronting up for his team.

At that stage, he had yet to do a Head Injury Assessment.

Yesterday, he went before the cameras again and indications are that he, and James Ryan, who was also removed with a brain injury, will be available to play France.

Wales, in contrast, have ruled the two players in their team who suffered head injuries out of Saturday’s match against Scotland – the 24 hours difference means you can’t get your players through the full protocols in time to be passed fit.

Sexton wants to play.

The medics will clear him if he shows no symptoms in the coming days. And he believes it is the right thing to do.

“Well I’ll do all the tests that are in place and if I don’t get through them I won’t play,” he said. “But if I do get through them then I’ll play.

“It will all depend on how I do and how I feel. That gives me confidence and that will give the people close to me confidence that I’m okay.

“I’m a dad of three and a husband and I’m not going to go and be stupid.

“I’m not going to risk anything and no-one in this environment will risk. I’ve had the talk with the doctors an

“I’ve never felt any pressure to play after a knock on the head.

“It was a blow at the weekend, and a good blow, and the fact that the docs were out so quick is a sign of how good they are. They don’t let you get up too quickly and all those things that can sometimes make it look even worse as you’re lying there but they’re telling you not to move.

“So look, it is what it is and we’ll see how I go over the next 48 hours.”

The back-drop to all of this is the legal case being launched by Steve Thompson, Alix Popham, Michael Lipman and other former professionals against the English RFU and World Rugby.

In December, those three men’s impactful testimonies sent a shockwave through the sport. The idea that Thompson couldn’t remember his own World Cup final or that Popham struggles to remember his wife’s name caught the attention of current and past players.

Sexton is aware of their stories.

“It’s very hard for me, because I don’t want to go against those guys,” he said.

“The times, the way we’re looked after now, is very different.

“Some of the stories that have come out of guys playing on Saturday and getting knocked on the head then playing on Tuesday and getting a knock on the head, coming in on Thursday and getting knocked on the head, playing Saturday, that doesn’t happen anymore.

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Ireland captain Johnny Sexton expressed his ‘disappointment’ with French doctors who floated the idea that he has suffered 30 career concussions. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton expressed his ‘disappointment’ with French doctors who floated the idea that he has suffered 30 career concussions. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton expressed his ‘disappointment’ with French doctors who floated the idea that he has suffered 30 career concussions. Photo: Sportsfile

“There’s always a little bit of contact in training but it’s rarely full contact.

“Back in the day, after the knock I got on Saturday, maybe I would have been thrown out there today and then you’re susceptible to something else.

“The way that we’re looked after is at the top of sport really, the way rugby is. I feel for the guys, I really do, the guys that are struggling now.

“I feel good. The reports, I don’t want to go back to it, but they were so inaccurate it just makes me angry.”

The reports he is referencing are two pieces that appeared in French media featuring neurosurgeons on Tuesday.

Dr Chermann, who was the man who stood Sexton down for 12 weeks in 2015 as a result of him suffering three concussions in a year, apologised yesterday for floating the idea that the player had suffered 30 concussions. But both he and Dr Jean Chazal questioned whether Sexton should be allowed to feature a week after such a heavy blow.

“I’m pretty saddened and shocked by the inaccurate reports that were thrown out yesterday,” Sexton said.

“We’ve been here before and it is very frustrating and, for me, totally inappropriate that someone I had seen 10 years ago (in 2015) now felt it appropriate to come out and talk to whoever it was and say those things.

“I’m pretty disappointed but, for me, I am so used to it that it’s almost water off a duck’s back. But for my wife and mum it’s very upsetting, that’s the world we live in.

“I thought there was a patient-doctor confidentiality. I’m pretty sure that exists in the world and I just can’t get over the fact that someone thought it was appropriate to say things that weren’t even accurate. That’s the most hurtful thing.

“I’ve ‘released a statement’ and that’s all I have to say on the matter.”

Sexton resents the idea that he is somehow a poster boy for head injuries in his sport and is somewhat burnt by the experience of 2015 when he was given three months off to recover.

“We have been here before and we could sit here and talk about it for 20 minutes but I’m never going to win out because the last time I tried to give the facts and defend myself and I was in the papers for being selfish and all that to the younger players coming through the system and people accusing me of just looking after myself,” he said.

In his mind, he’s all set to train tomorrow and face France on Sunday.

And that’s the focus of his attention after a monumental effort that came up short against Wales.

“I’m so proud of the lads, the way we played particularly in the first half,” he said.

“We lost our way a bit in the second half with bits of inaccuracy, bits of discipline. First international game, there’s always going to be little bits of whatever you want to call it, rust or inaccuracy.

“They made mistakes, every team made mistakes over the weekend, but when you play with 14, it’s harder to recover from.

“But it’s not an excuse. We still felt if we’d got more of our plan right we could have come away with a very famous win and it’s very disappointing and we’re all gutted.

“Well, we were gutted. We’ve turned the page now and we’re very focused on trying to turn our campaign around against France on Sunday.”

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