'I can't believe the amount of times Saracens have referred to us beating them' - Johnny Sexton 2 months ago

'I can't believe the amount of times Saracens have referred to us beating them' - Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton had not played for Leinster for 113 days but it hardly looked like it.

Such is the nature of modern rugby - injuries, Test windows and player management - that Leinster only get to field something resembling their best XV about six times a season.

On a resplendent Sunday at the Aviva Stadium, Leinster rolled out every big gun they had fit and ready to go. Sexton was back in blue for the first time since December 29.

The outhalf was good in the Guinness Six Nations wins over France and, short as his outing was, Scotland. He had acquitted himself well in his two outings against Bath (in December), not long after being crowned World Rugby Player of the Year, but had struggled against Munster, England, Italy and Wales.

Although no injury was disclosed during the Six Nations, Sexton appeared to be struggling with tightness to his calf and possibly his hamstring. He was back, a month after the Six Nations finale, and looked to be a player renewed.

Sexton's superb performance, and that of a few other Leinster stars, were discussed [from 4:00 below] on the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby.

Sexton(Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

"Sexton's kicking from hand was brilliant and his kicking for goal was brilliant too," said Barry Murphy. "Luke McGrath's pace-setting was just brilliant and James Lowe's try in the first half was a prime example of Leinster at their best."

Following his man-of-the-match performance in Leinster's 30-12 win over Toulouse, in the Champions Cup, Sexton spoke with the media about the challenge - in the ominous shape of Saracens - that lies ahead.

You now have Saracens in the final. What do you expect from them?

Did you see the game yesterday?! Pretty physical, you know. They are an outstanding side. I heard them reference our game last year (Leinster won the 2018 quarter final 30-19) as a big turning point for them. They probably felt they didn't perform on the day that's what they said.

They will have Billy who didn't play last year he's back and he'll be a huge player for them. Already you flip the switch and start thinking about them, it's going to be one of our toughest games.

Yeah at time I felt we played really well, I think in a semi-final there's always going to be periods where the other team has a purple patch and they had a few but we managed to hang in there at times. At time we dominated those phases of play that they didn't have the ball but there was a time I think we got on top of them for a couple of phases, then maybe switched off slightly and they counter-attacked us but it was very pleasing to hold them tryless.

Vunipola(Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

More to come from you after your Leinster return?

"Yeah there's always more isn't there? Some of it wasn't perfect at times, I said in my post-match (interview), during the week it was like cramming for a big exam I was trying to fit everything in. It was probably a little bit too much at times during the week but you need to learn from experience not to do that but in such a big game when you haven't been on the pitch for a few weeks.

"It's different when you don't have that week in week out match fitness, it's tough and it weighs heavily on you but it's better to be fully fit and undercooked than to be playing every week and carrying injuries and niggles.

How will Sarries be different to Toulouse in terms of their 9/10 combination?

"Yeah, it's going to be a big challenge. But I've said it numerous times when you play against a 10 it's not really a direct battle because you rely so heavily on everyone around you, the coaches and the pack so it's very hard to compare but look he had a great game yesterday, I think their half-backs controlled the game really well. Ben Spencer at nine looked really sharp in and around the ruck

"Richard Wigglesworth will get a few games over the next couple of weeks I'm sure and we'll be ready for all the combinations they have. They've got an unbelievably strong squad, you look at their bench yesterday and even some of the guys who weren't involved in the squad. We will hopefully have a few bodies back as well and it will be a massive battle for us, one we'll build for over the next couple of weeks."

Are Saracens the best team Leinster will play in all their finals?
 
"I think every final is tough, they're always tough. You don't get to a European Cup final being an average team. But yeah, potentially. They've had a lot of experience, they've lost finals, won finals, so they've experienced both sides of the coin and I'm sure they will be relishing it.
"Like I said, I can't believe the amount of times they've referred to our [quarter-final] game and even you hear their coaches all the time talking about it. So it's a big regret for them and a big learning point and I'm sure they'll be relishing getting the chance to put things right against us.
"The psychology of that is something we'll have to sort out and talk about but they're an exceptional team. We'll be up against it but it's a challenge that we're looking forward to."