Brought to you be Heineken
Mike Ross remembers rooming with Johnny Sexton during the Churchill Cup in 2006.
It was Sexton’s very first year with Leinster but, during this tour with ‘Ireland A,’ as Ross recalls it, the out-half was getting itchy feet.
He wasn’t getting a look-in at with his province and, seeing as Ross was playing with Harlequins at the time, Sexton began to enquire about the Premiership.
As it turned out, he eventually earned his chance, and he never looked back from there. Some say that a leg-break suffered by Felipe Contempomi in 2009 was the reason he got this chance, but that’s a narrative that Sexton never bought into.
“It kind of pisses me off when people say that [2009 Heineken Cup semi-final] game was my breakthrough,” he said In The New Breed: Irish Rugby’s Professional Era, by Patrick McCarry.
“I had played a full season before that – 17 or 18 games between the Magners League and Heineken Cup.
“They moved Felipe [Contepomi] out to No.12 for a lot of those games. That annoyed me a bit – The people who thought that hadn’t watched a lot of Leinster the season before.”
Had Sexton headed for the Premiership, given that it would have taken something incredible for him to get back, it would undoubtedly have been a move that would have changed Irish rugby history however.
Take Ulster’s Gareth Steenson who, in the shadow of David Humphries, left for the Premiership in 2006 before going onto become an Exeter legend.
Fast forward some 17 years and Sexton looks set to retire as, arguably, one of Ireland’s greatest ever players.
Speaking on SportsJOE’s House of Rugby, Ross discussed his early memories of Sexton as a team-mate.
“I first met Johnny in 2006 when we went on a Churchill Cup together, and I was rooming with Johnny,” recalls Ross.
“He wasn’t getting a lot of love with Leinster at the time, and he was asking about the Premiership, what it was like.”
"You're in mourning for what could've been. It still stings."
Mike Ross on the experience of losing in the World Cup quarter-final and how the Irish players will be feeling right now.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) October 17, 2023
Ross played with Sexton from 2009 to 2017 with Leinster, and recalls the ‘unbelievably high standards’ the out-half set for the squad.
“He just drove standards. Anyone who’s ever played with Johnny knows that he’s quite cranky, but he also has unbelievably high standards and he’s not afraid to call someone out if he feels you’re setting a standard below that.
“He just made the right decision at the right times.
“And the amount of experience he has, looking for openings and making the right call, you can’t over-state that. That’s the trouble with rugby is that, when you become a subject matter expert, father time taps you on the shoulder,” says Ross.
As it has done with Sexton. So where to-next?
Sexton now appears to be set to work in a role as a Commercial Manager with Ardagh Group (Glass packaging supplier) but between them, Ross and his fellow House of Rugby guest Johne Murphy reckon he may come into coaching in the years to come.
“I believe he’s going into the corporate world first, see how he gets on in that,” says Ross.
“He’ll have to watch out for HR in corporate,” jokes the former prop forward, “you know, there’s not much HR in professional sport, so you can’t be telling someone what you really think of them.
“He might come back to coaching,” adds Ross.
“But he’ll probably want a few years of separation between himself and the current squad because it can be quite difficult, going in managing guys you played with the previous season.”
Former Leinster player Murphy agrees, and feels that he may follow a similar path to Paul O’Connell, by taking a few years away from the game before coming back in as a coach.
“I can see him doing a bit like what Paulie did in terms of taking that break away for a while, doing what he’s doing in the corporate sense, then maybe starting with some age-grade stuff, Irish 20s or 19s, but I wouldn’t be in any way surprised if he did end up there, given his rugby IQ,” says Murphy.
“He’s the ultimate competitor so he will have to try and get that fix from somewhere.”
Watch the full episode of House of Rugby here:
- Johnny Sexton fumes at All Blacks centre Rieko Ioane in post-match exchange
- “You cannot do that” – Matt Williams on roughest reason Ireland lost to the All Blacks
- Well-intentioned press conference question draws emotional Johnny Sexton response
- Rob Kearney in stitches as Peter O’Mahony delivers emphatic post-match interview
- Ian Madigan backs up Brian O’Driscoll training story about Garry Ringrose