Johnny Sexton has had a long association with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt. It began in 2010 when Schmidt was on the verge of leaving Vern Cotter’s coaching team at Clermont Auvergne to go it alone as head coach at Leinster, replacing Michael Cheika who was moving in the opposite direction to join French club Stade Francais.
In an interview with the BBC, Sexton has given his first impressions of the New Zealander.
“I remember meeting him probably eight or nine years ago in Leinster along with [former captain] Leo Cullen and [former forwards coach] Jono Gibbes”, Sexton said.
“Leinster had interviewed him and thought he could be the guy going forward, and they said they wanted a few of the players to meet him. After the meeting Leo and Jonno asked me what I thought; I said I thought he was a bit too nice to be a head coach – the boys still slag me about it now.”
“At the time, we’d had Michael Cheika for the previous three years and we had a real hard-working group and Michael had instilled that in us and Joe was exactly what we needed.
“Leo is obviously a better judge than I am!”
“I thought he was a bit too nice to be a head coach – how wrong could I have been?” he said.
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Under Schmidt at Leinster Sexton won the Champions Cup twice, in 2011 and 2012, along with the Celtic League and Challenge Cup in 2013. Success continued in the national colours with Ireland winning the Six Nations in 2014, 2015 and the Grand Slam in 2018. There was also the notable 2-1 series win over Australia last June, followed by an unbeaten November series which included a victory over the All Blacks. Sexton’s year was capped by winning the World Rugby Player of the Year.
“Joe has been a huge part of my career in terms of helping me develop as a player. As a 10 you are only as good as the guys around you, and the coach plays a pivotal role in terms of having the group organised and giving you a clear gameplan.”
Sexton is famed for setting high standards and demanding the best from teammates, so it was no surprise who he named as an inspiration – former Manchester United captain Roy Keane.
“What people don’t realise is that when you have a go at someone [during a game], you put massive pressure on yourself. Communication is a big part of the position I play, and I try and manage the team as best I can.
“Roy Keane was a hero of mine. He always produced on the big days and I am sure it was similar for him with that leadership role.”
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