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02nd May 2022

“Johnny Sexton has achieved pretty much everything… he’s someone I fully respect”

Patrick McCarry

Ben Youngs

“We are going to have to be at our absolute best to get the victory.”

It has been a while since Leinster and Leicester Tigers have clashed in Europe. Johnny Sexton, Ben Youngs and others have had to do their duelling in the colours of their countries.

Having built up a nice, early rivalry in Europe – albeit paling in comparison to Munster vs. Leicester – this Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter final at Welford Road is a welcome return.

Both sides were up for press duties, this afternoon, and that lack of recent clashes – the sides have not met in 11 years – meant the tone and comments were all very respectful.

Youngs, who has been at Leicester since 2006, is now the club’s longest serving current player, after his brother, Tom Youngs, led the side out for the final time at the weekend. The scrumhalf was thrown a couple of Johnny Sexton questions during his press briefing, and had good responses to both.

Ben Youngs, Johnny Sexton and Leigh Halfpenny celebrate victory after the First Test match against Australia, in 2013. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Ben Youngs on long-lasting Johnny Sexton impact

Asked about Johnny Sexton being seemingly ‘written off’ at the start of each, recent season, Ben Youngs replied, “He’s a bit like [Leicester teammate] Chris Ashton. That drive comes from within.

“His ability to still produce and perform comes from his ability to still strive and constantly want more. He’s achieved pretty much everything from a personal point of view – World Player of the Year, Grand Slams, Six Nations titles, European Cups, domestic leagues, so he’s done a huge amount. He still has a huge amount of self-drive. I applaud that and massively respect.

“The more experience you have and the more things you essentially do the more people want to move you aside and let the next guys in and he’s never dropped his performance, he’s always got better, he’s still an absolute key cog for Ireland let alone Leinster. He’s someone I fully respect.”

While stopping Sexton has long been on the game-plans of many Test nations and club sides, Leinster have threats all over the park. Asked if shutting down the veteran outhalf had possible dropped do the priority list, Youngs disagreed.

“That’s not something that I believe,” he said.

“As a half-back, if you get front-foot ball your job becomes easier. It isn’t necessarily about stopping Johnny. He’s obviously very important to them, but it’s about minimising the amount of time he’s got front-foot ball, really quick ball, him and [Jamison] Gibson-Park, because they’ll punish us.

“Essentially it’s never about stopping an individual, it’s about how you stop them being at their best. One thing for a half-back is try and win collisions, slow down the speed of ball, they are a massive possession-based team so we’ve got a job on our hands trying to stop that.”

Youngs, who was a travelling reserve when Leinster beat Leicester in the 2009 Heineken Cup final, says it is “unbelievable exciting” to be facing the four-time champions on their home patch, this weekend.

“We get to see where we are at against the best team, certainly in Europe, if not the best club team in the world, so it’s everything we want to do,” he declared. “We’ve come on loads this season but let’s see how far we really have come and Saturday is an opportunity to see that.”


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