'hurt like hell' | 

Johnny Sexton not ruling out playing beyond 2023 as pain of Lions snub still lingers

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is due to return against Australia© ©INPHO/Tom Maher

Rúaidhrí O’ConnorIndependent.ie

BEFORE this window, Johnny Sexton got a chance to rub shoulders with an all-time great from another dimension.

He came with a list of questions for NBA star Steph Curry who was in town on holidays and worked out at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre, but came away disappointed.

Game, it seemed, recognised game.

“The opportunity to meet someone like that was insane, I couldn’t get over how humble he was, how down-to-earth he was,” Sexton said.

“I was hoping to ask him a few questions about his routine and how he preps, but I couldn’t get any questions in because he was asking me about rugby and how to pass the ball.

“In basketball, he shoots with the same hand all the time and he couldn’t get over how we’ve to do it with our bad hand, and kick with both feet. It was amazing that with the stature he has in the game that he plays, to be such a good fella was great to see.”

Even at 37, Sexton has a voracious desire to learn and adapt in order to stay at the top – and that’s one of the reasons why he’s so far ahead of the chasing pack of No 10s.

The bad news for that batch of players is that the Ireland captain is reconsidering whether to finish after next year’s World Cup.

“My brothers are on to me as well,” he said with a wry smile.

“They’re giving me guilt at the moment, saying: ‘What are we going to do, like, when you retire?’ They love coming to the games, they almost feel like they’re playing the game themselves. My wife is not talking to me like that.

“I just need to concentrate on what’s ahead of me, and that’s all I am doing, concentrating on this season and trying to make the most of every opportunity I get – and, please God, get to the World Cup and then see what happens.”

Jonathan Sexton (right) with basketball star Steph Curry at Abbottstown.

Sexton had previously said he planned on finishing in France, but the door remains open.

“You guys (in the media) caught me by surprise when I announced the extension. I thought it was a good-news story. ‘Does this mean you’re retiring after?’ You can’t get rid of me quick enough. So, it caught me by surprise.

“I genuinely didn’t expect that question in the first place and I hadn’t prepared for it – and I kind of thought, is it not kind of obvious? But we’ll see, we’ll see,” he said.

The fact that the Lions are in Australia in 2025 may be a factor in that decision, considering the World Player of the Year nominee was left out by Warren Gatland for the tour of South Africa in 2021.

“The Lions selection still drives me to this day,” he said.

“Any time I feel I’m getting a bit ahead of myself I just think back to not being picked for that. Again, it’s opinion, isn’t it? The World Player of the Year is a few people’s opinion. They think you’ve done well.

“A few important people thought that I wasn’t the right fit for that team, it hurt like hell. It just shows the fickleness of selection and everything, and you don’t want to go out from international rugby like that.

“It’s a big motivating factor. I’d rather have got picked and I still think I’d be hungry, but, maybe sometimes, you need a bit of a stir up like that.

“To miss the chance to go on a Lions tour. I’ve still never been to South Africa in however many years playing rugby. I’ve never been to South Africa and I always thought: ‘I’ve never been but it’s going to be that tour.’

“The coaches thought that I wasn’t the right person for the job, and that’s life. You’ve got to get over it. But you’ve got to use it.”

If they were picking the team now, he’d be a shoo-in. Who’d bet against him now?

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