Johnny Sexton's most cherished jersey swap shows how seriously he takes his rugby
"It's very special."
Less than an hour after Leinster reached the 2023 Champions Cup final, Leo Cullen was asked if Johnny Sexton could return in time for the game against La Rochelle. The Leinster coach was somewhat taken aback by the query.
"No," he then responded before thankfully offering another crumb, although it was not comforting. "I'd be shocked."
Sexton himself confirmed, in an interview with Peter O'Reilly, that he would not be returning for Leinster this season. Some of the more optimistic rugby supporters were clinging to the hope that Leinster's captain could return less than two months after surgery on his injured groin.
Cullen's remarks just about put a seal on that notion, with Sexton then telling us, during his appearance at the International Rugby Experience grand opening, that he expected to be back running around in June. His 2022/23 season is done, and the World Cup is now his focus.
The 37-year-old was in good form when he spoke with us at the event in Limerick, on Tuesday, and he offered fascinating insights to the toughest tacklers he has come across, in his career, and his most cherished jersey swap.
Johnny Sexton on best jersey swap
Asked for the best player of all time, Johnny Sexton could not be split between All Blacks legends Dan Carter and Richie McCaw. The Kiwi outhalf, he said, was the greatest 10 he ever faced off against.
When it comes to the jersey swap that means most to him, Sexton provided an answer that proves how seriously he takes his rugby.
"I'm sure a few of them [are cherished]. I'd say Beauden Barrett because I never had a New Zealand one before.
"I was always worried about going to swap with them and then he came to in to us in Chicago [in 2016] and swapped them. So it's probably very special, too, the first win over the All Blacks."
Up until that match against New Zealand, at Soldier Field, Sexton had faced the three-time world champions on six occasions and ended up on the losing side, each time. As driven a competitor as any player to ever lace up the boots, Sexton clearly could not bring himself to seek out a jersey swap until he felt like an equal to the Kiwis.
The fact that Barrett, a player he has enjoyed many battles against, took the step of coming into the Ireland dressing room to swap his 10 jersey with Sexton clearly means a lot to him, too.
"He’s an outstanding player," said Sexton of Barrett, back in November 2021. "Whether he plays at 10 or 15 he brings his strengths to the game. He’s just a freak of a runner and he has a lot of skills with it: a great kicking game and those kick passes that he can do, chipping it to himself or for others. He is a strong guy."
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As for the players that stuck the biggest tackles on him in his career, Sexton again had two names - Thierry Dusatoir (France) and Richie McCaw (New Zealand).
The one opponent he dearly would have loved to play on the same team with? Richie McCaw.
*There is more from Johnny Sexton in the latest House of Rugby episode (from 22:45) below.
WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY HERE:
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