The weeping of an heir is laughter in disguise
Just as athletics has been scraping around trying to find a replacement for the now soccer playing Usain Bolt – rugby union has still not found a true “heir to Habana”.
Sure, there are some rapid players like Perry Baker and Carlin Isles from the US, but they are making names for themselves in Sevens not fifteens. And the US isn’t yet able to be described as a top bracket test side.
The fastest player I played with was undoubtedly Chris Ashton, and we all know what impact a player with extra gears can have – with Ashton now back in England with Sale Sharks, Eddie Jones would be crazy not to consider him for Japan next year.
But it seems that Habana’s true heir might not feature in Japan next year, if only because the World Cup will come too soon.
Aaron Sexton is still at school but in recent weeks he has scored seven tries in Ulster A’s Celtic Cup campaign. Last weekend in picking up two tries against Connacht A he accelerated to 37.8 km/hr – according to Ulster Rugby the fastest player speed ever recorded by an Ulster player in a match.
In June this year aged 17, Sexton smashed the Northern Irish Boys 100m record with a time of 10.52 seconds in winning the all-island Irish Schools Athletics Championships. He also went on to win the 200m title in a pretty handy 21.12 seconds. In July he took that 200m time down further to 21.06 at the World Under-20 Championships in Finland.
Roll forward one month and still aged 17, Sexton made his full Ulster debut as a second half replacement in pre-season against Gloucester.
But Sexton isn’t some fast kid giving rugby a go, he’s been combining rugby with athletics for some time, having represented Ireland Rugby at underage levels. And whilst the buzz about Sexton might not yet have created waves outside the notorious Belfast bubble – it’s only a matter of time.
In an interview with Luke Fitzgerald’s Left Wing podcast, Ulster scrum half John Cooney has already publicly predicted that Sexton is in line to become a big star.
Sexton’s easy transition to the Ulster A-side suggests the next step to first team regular isn’t too far away. The same backroom team that handled Jacob Stockdale’s transition are handling Sexton’s, and that gives good reason to expect similar positive outcomes for the teenager.
With the retirement last season of Ulster wing legends Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe, Ravenhill was gripped with anxiety about squad depth and where Jacob Stockdale and Craig Gilroy might receive back up. But that anxiety has been replaced by a debate not about how far Sexton can be progressed -but how soon.
It’s a great position for Ulster Rugby to find themselves in with another teenage winger Angus Kernohan already blooded in the first team this season, and Ireland Sevens success Robert Baloucoune, himself only twenty-one, scoring freely for the A-side on the opposite wing to Sexton.
And when ambitious players must to compete hard just to be selected, you know great things lie ahead.
A lion runs the fastest when he’s hungry
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