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'He has changed rugby'

SPOTLIGHT: Johnny Sexton could go out on a high note in his 60th and final Six Nations match if Ireland beat England on Saturday.

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He could captain the team to a Grand Slam in his hometown and potentially become the tournament’s all-time record points scorer.

Players and coaches have been paying tribute to the 37-year-old fly-half during the week and here AFP Sports highlights the pick of them:

Mover and shaker

“He has changed rugby, changed Irish rugby, obviously for the better. He teaches people what it is like to be a professional, what it is like to be a proper Irishman.” – Ireland flank Peter O’Mahony, who made his Test debut in 2012, three years after Sexton.

Standard bearer

“Johnny has his own standards and all of us strive to get to those standards and we get absolutely torn into when we don’t, but we try.

“Johnny’s standard is so high and it has been for so long that it just drives something special in him.

“He deserves all the accolades he gets because he’s a fierce competitor, an unbelievable professional.” – Ireland and Leinster prop Cian Healy, who has won the European Cup with Sexton four times and three Six Nations titles, including the 2018 Grand Slam.

Lighter side

“The Johnny you see after a game is the most enjoyable Johnny to be around, it’s a different person, it’s class.

“If anything is going to make me play better it’s to get to meet that Johnny for a while.” – Healy.

Captain Fantastic

“He understands the role and he has got the balance right between the competitive edge and controlling the match. His manner of portraying it to the rest of the group is top drawer. To my mind he is still getting better and better.” – Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, who appointed him skipper when he took over after the 2019 World Cup.

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Sun king

“These individual records are very important to the player and individual. I’m 46, and I’ve held the record for a long time, and I’m grateful. I know Johnny, he works bloody hard, he has had many ups and downs, but has kept that and been bloody resilient and he deserves his day in the sun.” – Ronan O’Gara his predecessor as Ireland flyhalf and who he shares the Six Nations points record of 557 for the moment.

Secret to his longevity

“For me, luck, being able to, touch wood, be able to avoid those big injuries that you see cruelly happen to some players.

“So luck is a huge part of it. Being able to bounce back from adversity, maybe.

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“I’ve had plenty of bad days, plenty of criticism, scrutiny and just being able to bounce back from those bad moments. Those two things.” – Sexton.

Jonny and Johnny

“They’re [Wilkinson and Sexton] both obsessive. They’re just completely different mental animals.

“They’re so in the moment, they’re so in the game. Everything means a hell of a lot.

“They’re deep thinkers of the game and it’s bringing that freedom out of them so they can go and perform that’s the crucial thing.

“But how they make people feel around them is what they’re very, very good at as well.” – Ireland attack coach Mike Catt, who lifted the 2003 World Cup with Wilkinson.

The driver

“The drive I have seen first hand of him driving a team and the respect I have got for the way he does that and how that has been consistent for a long time now. He obviously had to battle his way in at the start against another top fly-half. I know he has not finished but he has had a phenomenal career so far -– he has done it all.” – England fly-half and a British and Irish Lions teammate Owen Farrell.

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