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Petulant Sexton is 'world-class'

REACTION: Love him, or hate him, Johnny Sexton is world-class.

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The Ireland and Leinster flyhalf, Sexton, is certainly one of those players who illicit mixed reactions.

And he doesn’t seem to mind the disputatious nature of the opinions about his game and character.

Sexton started his first Leinster game of the season at the weekend and he was very much the returning maestro, steering the men in blue to a thrilling 54-34 demolition of the Sharks.

It was vintage Sexton too.

The 37-year-old bestrode the pitch – an angry commander in chief – shouting orders, kicking pin-point cross kicks and scoring a remarkable solo try in a virtuoso display in front of an adoring RDS crowd.

He was also up in the faces of his South African opposition at every opportunity.

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Late in the second half, two headshots in a single play from the defending Sharks saw things boil over and it was in this passage of play that Sexton drew particularly fire from fans.

Sexton’s exchanges with referee Craig Evans left South African fans with a sour taste in their collective mouthes.

Demanding and sarcastic, the Dubliner was totally unabashed in pursuit of what he saw as justice for the head-high shot on Ross Byrne.

A red was forthcoming and Leinster went on to close out the game with some authority.

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Despite the ballistic nature of the opposing fans’ views, Sharks coach Sean Everitt was full of praise for the veteran playmaker.

“We were up against a class outfit,” Everitt said, adding: “Johnny Sexton was world-class in the second half.

“He put us under huge pressure.”

However, many fans – and not just of the South African variety – weren’t pleased, to say the least.

Welsh fan Rich Corless wrote: “Sexton is a petulant child though. Trying to get a Sharks player sent off for a clear rugby incident. It’s so so easy to hate him when he acts like this though.”

One fan drew a line between Sexton’s back chat with Evans and a recent incident with fellow Ireland international Bundee Aki, who was recently banned for a dangerous clearout and had his ban extended because of his pursuit of the referee after a red card was brandished.

“The Johnny Sexton (bitchy) and Bundee Aki (moany) ref back chat is getting really disgusting.”

Even some Leinster fans admitted to finding his exchanges with Evans a bit much.

“I’m a Leinster fan. But one of these days, a Referee has to be strong enough to card Sexton for his constant verbals. Really tiresome and counter-productive. And just wrong too – don’t want that s***e in Rugby,” posted one.

Yet for all the criticism of the veteran, there was an equally vociferous defence on the Ireland side of the social media aisle.

Karl Brophy may have landed a fatal blow to the critics when he eloquently snarked: “South African rugby supporters would, presumably, much prefer if Johnny Sexton stayed quiet on the pitch and, instead, put out an hour-long video on Twitter tomorrow systematically attacking the referee over his failure to protect the players from foul play.”

Another Leinster fan stated: “Every single fan bitching about Sexton would sell their granny to have him play for their team.”

Irish rugby writer and podcaster Will Slattery heaped praise on the ageing general: “What a masterclass that was from Johnny Sexton. For all the time we spend debating the ten pecking order, sometimes it’s worth just taking a step back and enjoying what he is still producing at 37.”

Regardless of his behaviour, there was no denying Sexton’s influence on the game, which he even his most bitter critics will concede was telling.

* Additional reporting by Ian Cameron, RugbyPass

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