Johnny Sexton closing in on Leinster and Ireland deal until 2023
"Hopefully I'll have something sorted in the next few weeks."
While Ulster Rugby are dropping good news contract nuggets in a liberal fashion, some of the other provinces are keeping their powder dry. By all reliable accounts [and sources], though, Leinster should have a Johnny Sexton update to please their fans very soon.
Close to 60% of professional players in Ireland went into 2021 knowing they were out of contract this summer but without new deals in place. On House of Rugby Ireland, on January 17, Connacht and Ireland lock Quinn Roux said he was still without a contract for 2021/22 (and beyond) and was anxious about getting something sorted.
While Sean O'Brien, who is now with London Irish, recently raised the spectre of the likes of James Ryan and Tadhg Furlong moving abroad for better, longer deals, the IRFU are hard at work in the background tying to tie down the country's best and brightest. For players with families, the uncertainty is heightened again while many fear that any injury picked up in games, over the coming weeks, could scuttle contract talks.
After the Autumn Nations Cup, head coach Andy Farrell praised his players for maintaining focus on the games at hand while their own contract talks had been kicked out until early 2021. Heading into this year's Six Nations, several big names have yet to be tied down.
Asked how much of an extra burden that is on the squad, Ireland captain Johnny Sexton told us, "Obviously, as captain, you are mindful of people's situations, and making sure you're asking about how they are getting on with things.
"But in terms of how things are outside our bubble, there are people in a lot worse situations than we are at the moment. So we're in touch with that reality there.
"With the contract stuff, talks with most guys are underway now and hopefully they'll be all sorted out, one way or the other, in the next week or two. Because you want to get it done and dusted before such a big campaign coming up. But, if not, there will be breaks coming up during the Six Nations, in those fallow weeks, to pick up the pieces if there are final pieces to be done.
"But, look, it can be a distraction if you let it be a distraction. I think guys here know how important the Six Nations is, and we're just looking forward to the rugby side of things getting underway."
As for his contract situation, the 35-year-old is set to pen a new deal that will take him up to the summer of 2023, at least.
Sexton will be 38 by the time the 2023 World Cup rolls around, but do not rule out him signing a contract extension - like Rob Kearney in 2019 - that takes in that tournament time-frame.
"I don't like to throw my goals out for everyone to hear them," said Sexton, "but, obviously, being captain for this campaign, I have big aspirations that this team does really well. To win a championship as captain would be brilliant.
"There's lots of stuff and, for me, it's about taking it one campaign at a time. I'm properly focused on this one. And whether I stay on for another year, or two, I don't know. Hopefully I'll have something sorted in the next few weeks.
"Like I said, all my focus is on this campaign and trying to win it, trying to do a good job as captain and make sure we do better as a team... to win some silverware is where we want to be at the end of the tournament."
Expect more droplets of good contract news over the coming weeks, but do not be surprised if Irish Rugby loses a handful of players to foreign teams over the summer.
French clubs are always on the look out for star names and the South African rugby franchises may well be on the look-out for some players with PRO14 experience under their belts.