The full Johnny Sexton interview that everyone will be talking about today
What a legend.
Johnny Sexton has added a Grand Slam and a Triple Crown to his already impressive trophy haul. He may have lost his Six Nations winners' medal in the post-match celebrations but the powers-that-be will surely mint him a fresh one.
Sexton, not for the first time, came in for some close attention from the opposition during an Irish victory. He had his bell rung on more than one occasion and left the field for a Head Injury Assessment at the end of the first half. He came back again for the start of the second half and flung himself around again.
Battered, bloodied but unbowed, Sexton faced the media after Ireland's 24-15 win over England. Surrounded by over 30 reporters, the outhalf held court for 12 minutes and delivered some fantastic comments.
We felt we would do it best justice by including the full Q&A for your reading pleasure.
You got there. How does it feel?"
“It has been a weird week, horrible in many ways, people were talking about us trying to enjoy it but I found it very tough to enjoy the build up, it was nervewrecking at times. I’m just glad to get out the other side of it. We saved our best performance for last which is always very satisfying, and some of our defence was incredible. I know they scored a few tries but they are an outstanding team. You must give them credit for that. The defence, I thought, was incredible. We made Andy proud on the first day back in Twickenham for him. He’s proud to be part of that effort.”
There was a funny exchange with the ref, where you said, 'I’m fine I want to play on' even though you had a busted nose and then you were gone for 10 minutes.
“Yeah, it was tough because of how cold it was. You have to stay inside for ten minutes and then half time came, so I was a long time off, so it was difficult, I just wanted to keep going, but I suppose the way the game is going, you have to take all the precautions.”
Did you have control of the game the whole time?
“You never feel in control playing in Twickenham. You are 14 points up and you feel, a try here and we could come under serious pressure. Obviously we did. They are not back to back champions and Grand Slam champions from three seasons ago for nothing. They are very well coached. I know Steve Borthwick well from the last Lions tour. He is an outstanding coach. I don’t know the rest of their staff but they have some outstanding players. If we were going to win a grand slam it was always going to come down to today. This was always going to be our biggest challenge by far and it proved to be the case. There are a lot of sore bodies in there. But it makes it a bit easier when you win.”
Congrats on winning your first Triple Crown. You have been waiting a long time for this...
“I remember sitting in the Shelbourne Hotel eight years ago, before we played Scotland in Croke Park, and Declan Kidney spoke about Triple Crowns were hard to come by and I looked around and saw Ronan (O’Gara) and Paul (O’Connell) and Brian (O’Driscoll) roll his eyes up to heaven, as they had four of them at that stage. So, yeah, at that stage of my career I didn’t think that all these years later a Triple Crown would be something I’d still be waiting to win. When we won the French and Italian games, we said, okay right, we will try and win a Triple Crown, we tried to break it down like that. Mentally we were trying to get that part of it.”
Is this team even better than the one that won in Chicago? Has it moved on significantly?
“Yeah, it is a very different team although the spine is very similar. That is what makes this campaign so special, that so many new guys came in, and I think we should give so much credit to the coaching staff that you lose the calibre of backrowers. There were four guys who were injured and who were a huge part of this team over the last four years, and then to lose Robbie (Henshaw) for most of the campaign, among others, and guys just kept coming in. Garry (Ringrose) did, even though he has not played a lot of rugby. His two performances were incredible. It just seemed to fit this year. We seemed to have answers for everything.”
Was it hard not to focus on the bigger picture?
“It’s probably the first time we’ve been allowed speak about the Grand Slam before the campaign. It was blatantly obvious to the older guys – Keith Earls, myself, Rob, Rory – that we wanted to win a Grand Slam. We have always been very process driven so we spoke about it at the start and then parked it. And went game by game. Literally. Even this week we didn’t speak about a Grand Slam we just spoke about putting in our best performance. We knew we had to get a result against that side.”
So, how does it really feel?
“It hasn’t settled in. The celebrations were brilliant, celebrating with your family, they were all in the corner there. there was a big Irish contingent over. Celebrating with the lads for the last hour, they are the moments that you treasure. The moments that make the bad times worthwhile and all the sacrifices worthwhile. I’m sure it will settle in over the next couple of days when we get home to Ireland – I’m sure the place is going bonkers, as they do.
“It’s a big high point in my career, a very strange feeling.”
The likes of Jamie Heaslip and Luke Fitzgerald - 2009 Grand Slam winners - have had to retire recently. Does that make you appreciate this success more?
“Yeah, it does. I got a lot of texts from those guys before the game. Very special texts from different people I played with over the years. Especially guys who were injured this year but have played a part in
the campaign. Guys like Robbie, he was outstanding in the couple of games before he got injured, he is as much part of it as the guys who played five games. You think about those guys a lot.”
Joe Schmidt has one hell of a playbook. What is he like to work with?
“He keeps you on your toes. He, eh, how do I put this nicely? At times during the week you are driven demented with him but you know he is doing it for a reason – putting pressure on you in training, at meetings to make sure on Saturday every box is ticked, to make sure all the prep is done. He is an incredible coach, his record with Irish teams speaks for itself. He was three years with Leinster and got to six finals. Five years with Ireland and we have won three championships, a Grand Slam. The World Cup obviously didn’t go to plan but there are lots of reasons why that didn’t go to plan. Hopefully we can have a good crack at the next one.”
The youngsters in the squad are pretty special, aren't they?
“We spoke about that at the start of the campaign as well. In 2009 there were four or five guys who came into that squad and freshened things up – kept guys on their toes and brought this fearlessness. Yeah, we couldn’t have done it without Jordan Larmour, Garry, Joey Carbery. These young guys have been exceptional.”
Ever seen their like before?
“I know. Dan Leavy’s performance today was incredible. The guy is [exhales in wonder]... James Ryan – I hate the fact that they are all from St Michael’s, that drives me crazy, wish a few more were coming out of St Mary’s. Look, they are exceptional rugby players and people. Hopefully they can keep their feet on the ground and have success going forward.”
Rob Kearney backing up 2009 – complete legend?
“I thought he was outstanding today. In big games it is quite reassuring to have him at the back – ball in the air but you saw him going forward today. I don’t think I saw him get tackled by the first man, when fully fit he is one of the best around.
“He’s got his own little piece of history starting in every game in both campaigns. I’ve known him since I was 14, 15 in Leinster squads. I’m delighted for him.”