Michael Cheika: The force behind Sexton's legacy
YEAR-END SPOTLIGHT: Captain Johnny Sexton is in reflective mood days away from potentially winning his 100th Ireland cap against Japan credited among others former Australia coach Michael Cheika as setting him on the right path.
The 36-year-old flyhalf said he had been very fortunate to have had some great coaches and captains along the way since he made his international debut against Fiji in 2009.
Sexton credited several people he has played for including Joe Schmidt – with whom he won two of his four European Cups and three Six Nations titles including the pinnacle the 2018 Grand Slam – as well as present national coach Andy Farrell.
However, it is the colourful charismatic Cheika who Sexton praises for giving him some career-defining advice when he coached Leinster, guiding them to their first European Cup triumph in 2009.
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“Michael Cheika, though he did not pick me too often until the last year he was in charge, instilled in me the ethos of hard work and you have to earn the right to get into the team,” Sexton told a press conference on Tuesday.
“It was harder then to get games and it is very different now where guys get lots of games, then you were constantly having to prove yourself in training to have a chance of a game.
“I have been unbelievably lucky to be coached by some of the best in the game and playing under great captains like Paul [O’Connell] and Brian [O’Driscoll] who were fantastic leaders.
“I am very thankful to all of them,” he added before facing the Brave Blossoms on Saturday.
Despite his high profile and all the success he has enjoyed the Ireland captain was self-effacing and reluctant to talk about himself.
“I try and leave talking about myself to other people as much as I can,” he said.
Match Week training 𝐡𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐝𝐢𝐟𝐟𝐞𝐫𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐥𝐲 ⚡️💪
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 2, 2021
However, he did offer one insight into how he has managed to keep going for so long at the top of such a tough, physically demanding sport.
He has been no stranger to time on the sidelines or in the physio’s room.
Virtually every part of his body has suffered though most concern has been voiced regarding the knocks to his head he has taken.
“I think my ability to bounce back is what I am proud of,” he said.
“I have had a lot of brilliant moments winning trophies those are special moments.
“I have also had a hell of a lot of low points but they have always driven me.
“So I suppose if you want to be a good role model for kids looking in, it’s don’t give up and always try to bounce back, and that’s what I’d like to think people would see when they see me.”
Sexton – who is on a one-year contract at present with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and is happy to assess the situation at the end of next year’s Six Nations – said if someone held a gun to the head of his father he would probably have picked out his brother Mark as the one most likely to have a long career.
Injury, though, curtailed scrumhalf Mark’s career.
Sexton laughs when asked what would he say to his 24-year-old self, when he made his Test bow, now he has had 12 years to think about it.
“I would say ‘don’t take it so seriously’, then I would not be true to myself,” he chuckled.
“I would advise him ‘when you are in the moment and it feels like you cannot come back from this injury or had a bad game it is part of your journey and leads to something bigger and better.
“I would also tell my younger self to look less pissed off!” he added laughing.