Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell have moved to draw a line under last Saturday’s substitution controversy in France, Ireland skipper Sexton revealing he apologised on Sunday for his withering reaction while coach Farrell insisted his player’s conduct didn’t undermine him as head coach.
Ireland’s title-ending defeat to the French had gotten lost in recent days due to the huge commentary on the captain-coach incident. Sexton has been roundly criticised for how he angrily looked up towards the coaches box after he was taken off at the Stade de France with ten minutes remaining.
Former Ireland captains Brian O’Driscoll and Keith Wood, along with ex-coach Eddie O’Sullivan, said it wasn’t a good look for Sexton and the current skipper took steps to try and put the controversy to bed on Thursday, appearing at a virtual media conference along with Farrell to insist the air has been cleared ahead of the Autumn Nations Cup campaign.
Farrell initially said his piece separate to Sexton, suggesting what had happened had not undermined him as Ireland coach. Then Sexton came to the pulpit and gave his updated take on the fallout of a messy situation.
“Yeah, disappointed in myself with the reaction to a certain extent,” said Sexton. “Obviously if I had known the stories it was going to create and the way that it has been perceived I wouldn’t have done it.
"He should apologise to Farrell."https://t.co/LfZloxUfA7
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 5, 2020
“But you have to take it from my point of view – it’s in the heat of the moment, it’s up there with the biggest games I have played in as captain and yeah, it’s a low point. I reacted in a bad way for a split second and that’s it’s really. That’s all I can say really.
“I spoke to Andy after the game, I spoke to him on Sunday when I realised there was such a big thing and we sorted things out. I apologised and said look it shouldn’t have happened but it did. It was a split second and I let myself down in that regard.
“You learn and you move on. I suppose it’s not the first apology I have made in my career and it won’t be the last probably. We’ll move on. Thankfully we have got a good relationship and there are no problems going forward.
“If someone said you are on the big screen, you’re not going to do it,” he continued. “Yeah, if I had time to think about it I wouldn’t have done it but you’re in the heat of battle, you’re playing an international, it means a lot to you, you’re captain of the team and you’re disappointed in the performance as much as anything.
“Ultimately the team’s performance is down to, I have got to make sure the lads are in a better place to do what they are meant to do. There is as much disappointment in the situation as there is in the substitution.
“The other thing as well, I need to dead bat it and just walk off. I am who I am and like I said, I have apologised to the people that matter but I’m not going to sit here and sort of apologise to the whole world. It was a split second thing, a split-second decision I wish I didn’t make but I did.
“I love being captain. It’s a huge honour. When Andy asked me to do it, it was one of the biggest honours in my career, the biggest probably, and I’m incredibly proud to do it. I am trying to get better in the role…
“I have reacted worse coming off before when I was not captain at the time. Is it okay for players to do that? No, it’s not okay for players to do that but at the same time, it’s a split reaction, a one-second thing. Normally the cameras go the player that comes on not the player that comes off but my French ‘friends’ wanted to gather my reaction.”
Earlier, Farrell had said his piece on the controversy that has dominated Irish rugby since the weekend. “No, I don’t (think it undermined me). Johnny is a passionate guy and it’s the reason we all love him as a player for how long he has been at the top of the Irish game.
“I suppose there is always a bit of learning from every game that you play but no, I don’t feel undermined and neither do the team. We need Johnny to be himself… you are not going to change overnight a person that has been at the top doing what he has done because of the intent and the attitude that he has got.
“Me and Johnny are always talking. We speak most days and it’s always something that is ongoing. We have conversations constantly to see where we both are. Do I feel like I need to talk to him? We always have discussions. We spoke quite a number of times before today (Thursday). In fact, the last time was five minutes ago. We constantly talk about how things are going with the group.
“Of course, we always discuss everything that goes on. We’re discussing his individual game and his captaincy etc, so we are always learning together. 100 per cent (it has been overblown). The last thing that I want to do to Johnny is stop him being himself as well or else we all suffer, don’t we?”
3??changes from the 34 initially chosen on October 14 https://t.co/1G7oW1wWUe
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 5, 2020
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