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big win Leo Cullen hails enduring class of Johnny Sexton as Leinster beat Bath

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Leinster captain Jonathan Sexton speaks to referee Andrea Piardi during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool A win over Bath at The Recreation Ground. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Leinster captain Jonathan Sexton speaks to referee Andrea Piardi during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool A win over Bath at The Recreation Ground. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Leinster captain Jonathan Sexton speaks to referee Andrea Piardi during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool A win over Bath at The Recreation Ground. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Even in a routine bonus point victory, Johnny Sexton was visibly frustrated with certain aspects of both his and Leinster's play.

Such are the high standards Sexton demands of himself and those around him, there is no let up in the pursuit of perfection.

But as a warm-up for what is to come in the Six Nations over the coming weeks, it was an ideal afternoon in Bath, as Sexton rolled back the years once again to deliver a masterful performance in Leinster's thumping 64-7 win over Bath.

By the time he returns from international duty in March, attention will turn to Leinster's Heineken Champions Cup knockout clash, with their opponents set to be confirmed following the remainder of this weekend's games.

Sexton was at the heart of everything good about Leinster's slick play, as the skipper tormented the Bath defence by showcasing the full array of his attacking skills.

His kicking game in particular was superb, although he will be frustrated with some of his shots at goal.

Making his first start since Ireland's win over New Zealand last November, Sexton built on last week's cameo, which will have pleased Andy Farrell just as much as it did Leo Cullen.

“Obviously he was gutted with himself about missing out on selection for the Lions,” the Leinster head coach said.

“I think we are definitely the beneficiaries of that because we would have had Johnny for a big block, where he was keeping himself ready, working on his body, making sure he was in tip-top shape if he was called upon.

“Obviously the call never came but I guess having him around for pre-season for a lot of the young guys, driving standards day-to-day.

“You can see it in him, he is sort of rejuvenated. We played Harlequins in pre-season and he was fantastic that day. He was even talking about being nervous, it had been so long.

“We are the beneficiaries and Ireland as well, to a certain extent after missing out on the Lions, as hard as that was for him at the time.

“Hopefully he'll get that time back later on, if you know what I mean?

“He's trained well over this block, we haven't played that many games. It's phenomenal really, a 36-year-old, but age is definitely just a number in his case.

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“His mind is still as sharp as ever. The cross-field kick for Jimmy (O'Brien) and even just the awareness of them being a winger down etc. Lots of good stuff. I think the two Byrnes pushing him on as well is no harm too.

“The big thing is just trying to get through, that's his first start in a while. Johnny will go into camp and hopefully those guys kick on now over the next number of weeks.”

For Leinster, the focus now switches back to the United Rugby Championship, with a trip to Cardiff to come next weekend.

Jimmy O'Brien will hope to continue to catch the eye after his four tries at the Rec further highlighted his potential.

The Kildare man is in fine form, as Cullen praised the manner in which O'Brien has stepped up over the last two games.

"Jimmy scored his four tries but some of his defensive work as well, like the one he hunted down in the corner here was phenomenal, another one over on the far side, so it was a great game for Jimmy,” Cullen added.

"That builds on last week, sort of stepping up to this next level and it's really pleasing. There was lots of good stuff in there from lots of individuals.

"The challenge for us is that we'll have a slightly different group as we turn our attention to Cardiff next week in the URC and a number of guys will go away into Ireland camp.

“One of the positives for us of having so many games postponed is that now we have more games during the Six Nations window. It’s going to be a great opportunity for a number of guys who are probably sitting at home at the minute a little bit frustrated at how some of the tight selection calls have gone for them in recent weeks. It's good to have this block of games to look forward to."

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