'Hurt like hell': Johnny Sexton admits he is still being fuelled by British and Irish Lions snub
Johnny Sexton says the enduring pain of being snubbed by the British and Irish Lions is fuelling his fine form as he contemplates prolonging his career beyond next year’s World Cup.
Veteran Ireland captain Sexton was devastated to be overlooked by Lions boss Warren Gatland for the 2021 tour of South Africa, saying it “hurt like hell”.
The 37-year-old has channelled that major disappointment by inspiring his country to the top of the world rankings on the back of a Six Nations Triple Crown and a historic series win in New Zealand.
His individual contribution was this week recognised with a place on the four-man shortlist for World Rugby’s men’s player of the year.
While Sexton previously outlined plans to retire following the 2023 World Cup in France, he tantalisingly left the door open on that topic – saying “we’ll see” – as he laid bare the ongoing impact of his Lions rejection.
“The Lions selection still drives me to this day,” said the fly-half, who is preparing for Ireland’s autumn finale against Australia.
“Any time I feel I’m getting a bit of ahead of myself I just think back to not being picked for that.
“Again, it’s opinion, isn’t it? The World Player of the Year is a few people’s opinion. They think you’ve done well.
“When it came down to the Lions selection, a few important people thought that I wasn’t the right fit for that team and it hurt like hell.
“It just shows the fickleness of selection and everything, and you don’t want to go out from international rugby like that. It’s a big motivating factor.
“I’d rather have got picked and I still think I’d be hungry, but maybe sometimes you need a bit of a stir up like that.
“I’ve never been to South Africa and I always thought: ‘I’ve never been but it’s going to be that tour.’ The coaches thought that I wasn’t the right person for the job, and that’s life. You’ve got to get over it. But you’ve got to use it.”
Sexton was left out after Gatland opted for rival number 10s Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell, before adding Marcus Smith as injury cover.
The Leinster player announced his retirement intentions in March after signing a contract extension to take him up until the end of the forthcoming World Cup.
He has now suggested that decision may have been hasty and in part prompted by unexpected questioning from the media.
“Well, you guys caught me by surprise when I announced the extension,” he said.
“I thought it was a good news story and (you asked) ‘does this mean you’re retiring after?’ like you can’t get rid of me quick enough!
“It caught me by surprise. I genuinely didn’t expect that question in the first place, I hadn’t prepared for it and I kind of thought is it not kind of obvious? But we’ll see, we’ll see.
“I just need to concentrate on what’s ahead of me, and that’s all I am doing – concentrating on this season, and trying to make the most of every opportunity I get, and please God get to the World Cup and then see what happens.”
Sexton is in contention to face the Wallabies after missing last weekend’s win over Fiji due to a dead leg suffered in the victory over world champions South Africa.
With retirement plans now back up in the air, he admits there are conflicting opinions among his family.
“My brothers are on to me,” he said. “They’re giving me guilt at the moment. They’re saying: ‘What are we going to do, like, when you retire?’.
“They love coming to the games, they almost feel like they’re playing the game themselves. My wife is not talking to me like that.”
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Merci Shawn,Go to comments
The All Blacks and their continued success basically fund the entire game here. In countries with much bigger economies and larger rugby audiences they can push players more knowing that irrespective of rep or club teams success the size of their economy means that they will always get decent crowd buy in and hides the fact that it is the game itself that is deterring crowd attendance here in NZ. It seems that NZRU have made the decision that the All Blacks, rightly, must be kept in the best position to win to secure the future of the game here possibly, as some have opinioned, at the expense of super rugby. In my view they have to do this because they know that the local game cannot financially stand on its own and frankly as a live spectacle more often than not the games are a done deal before kick off. There are too many rules and too many opportunities for referees and TMO s to stop the game. Too often live crowds are sitting watching nothing. Who wants to watch hookers scoring more tries than wingers? Until the game is, for example, rid of legalised obstruction at the rolling maul which seems to be the aim for every pro team and the game is played wider with no fear of playing with the ball in your half in case the ref spots some minor technical indiscretion, teams will continue to scrum for a penalty, kick for the corner and rolling maul it. Who wants to watch that? That is why no one is going to games - because the viewing experience is rubbish irrespective of whether a couple of All Blacks are playing or not. The NZRU need to get their big boy pants on and do something about the rules.Go to comments