Sext' Messages | 

Johnny Sexton reveals why he has turned off his phone ahead of England showdown

Ireland's Johnny Sexton during squad training at the IRFU High Performance Centre at the Sport Ireland Campus. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE


Johnny Sexton has had his phone turned off for most of the week, in an attempt not to get distracted from the significant task at hand.

Every time he turns it on, a flood of messages flash up on the screen, mostly wishing him luck, others chancing their arm at securing the hottest ticket in town for Saturday’s Grand Slam decider against England.

It’s not that Sexton isn’t grateful for the widespread support that has come his and his team-mates’ way, but he knows there is a danger of taking your eye off the ball, and that Ireland have worked too hard to let this golden opportunity slip from their grasp.

That said, the good-luck texts do mean a lot in a week like this.

“Of course, yeah. On big weeks, they do come in,” Sexton says.

“The amount of support we’ve had throughout the championship has been incredible. It’s not lost on us. We do acknowledge it and we do speak about it.

“Number one (priority) for us is inspiring the country. That’s number one. That’s the first thing that we have on the list.

“All the other stuff comes next: performance, winning, but trying to do everyone proud is definitely it, and the support we get in these weeks makes you understand why you appreciate it so much.”

There will be plenty of time to respond to all the people that have reached out to Sexton and the team next week, but doing so as Grand Slam champions will be all the sweeter.

For Sexton, Saturday will be his final Six Nations game, which adds to the emotion of what is already a charged occasion, with England arriving at the Aviva Stadium aiming to spoil the Irish party on St Patrick’s weekend.

​Having come through plenty of adversity and silenced his doubters along the way, there must have been times when Sexton doubted if, at 37, he would find himself in this position.

“I try not look back too much because you want to keep pushing forward,” Sexton says, with one eye on the World Cup in France later this year.

“I suppose the longer you go on, the more you want to make the most of it, because you know it’s the last one.

“You’ve only got a certain amount of games left, so you do want to make the most of it. So, no, I haven’t had that sit down to reflect on everything. I think I’ll leave that to next year.”

Has Sexton surprised himself with how far he has come in the twilight of his career?

“I think what I’ve done is surround myself with good people,” he reasons.

“You talk about kicking coaches, very blessed to have the coaches that I have, to put the faith in me post the last World Cup. “A lot of other coaches would have said ‘There’s no chance he can get there.’ So, yeah, it’s the people that you rely on, your team-mates.

“It’s very hard to sit here and talk about myself all the time. It’s not about me this week, it’s about something bigger. It’s about the Grand Slam. It’s about the Championship.

“We need to try and get away from that as well. We need to get our best-ever performance out there, because it’s going to be needed.”

The talismanic out-half is aiming to join an illustrious club of four people who have captained Ireland to a Grand Slam; the late Dr Karl Mullen (1948), Brian O’Driscoll (2009), Fiona Coghlan (2013) and Rory Best (2018). Crucially, Sexton would be the first to do so in Dublin.

​Sexton started all five games of Ireland’s last Grand Slam success five years ago, when he was instrumental in steering his country to glory.

“I suppose it is very similar,” he says with regard to the mood in camp this week compared to 2018.

“When you come to cup finals, the messages are mostly the same. I think we’ve come on in leaps and bounds in terms of the mental side of our game – and that will be put to the test massively this week.

“In a cup final, being able to turn up, play your own game, be yourself, express yourself, that’s the biggest challenge in sport.

“It doesn’t matter what sport you play, the best players and the best teams do that. They can come and play well when it matters, so that’s a huge challenge for us this week.”

Sexton has been involved in enough big weeks to know how best to strike the right tone.

As captain, he hit all the right notes in New Zealand last summer, and backed by the positive environment that Andy Farrell and the Ireland coaches have created, the skipper believes his side are well placed to complete their mission against a wounded England side.

“It’s a challenge to get in the right headspace this week,” Sexton added.

“You can only do it if you’ve got good people involved and good coaches, Gary Keegan (performance coach), all these things that go into it.

“You know, a good leadership group that’s able to see where the group’s at, talk about what we need to improve from last week.

“It’s a real collaborative thing, like, we’re all in it together.

“Every time you play England it’s different I suppose. We’ve had games where we’ve been the spoilers, where they’ve come looking for a win, and I suppose (it’s about) trying to reverse it and learn the lessons from well, why did we do what we did? What caused us to do that?

“It’s probably trying to flip it a little and learn from that. We have acknowledged how good a team they are and we are fully aware of the threat that they are coming with. They’re a really good team.”

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