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The 'pinch of salt' Sexton reaction to Leinster beating Toulouse

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Player of the game Johnny Sexton wasn’t shouting in celebration from the Aviva Stadium rooftop after Leinster had blasted past Toulouse in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final. The veteran out-half had inspired his team to a comfortable 40-17 win, scoring 15 points with the boot and giving the assist for two of the four tries. 

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It meant that the reigning champions had been brilliantly dethroned, their hopes and ambitions of collecting their sixth star in the May 28 final in Marseille shattered on a sunny Dublin day. But Sexton wasn’t inclined to get caught up in the hoopla generated by the boisterous Leinster support in the bumper 42,076 attendance. 

Instead, foremost in his mind was how the French outfit had been in the same Irish stadium last weekend seeing out a 100-minute thriller versus Munster, an escapade that had to have a level of wear and tear on Toulouse. 

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Sexton was also conscious that the job was by no means yet done for Leinster, that this was only a semi-final and bad memories still lingered from their defeat in the 2019 showpiece by Saracens in Newcastle. 

“It was good, we did some really good things,” he initially enthused before proceeding to slap on the breaks and dispel the mood in the media room that this was a time to party, that Toulouse had been sent impressively packing.  

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“I just said to the guys outside when I did interviews that what I was most pleased about was that we didn’t let the mistakes faze us, going 7-3 down when we were dominating the first few minutes. We didn’t let it get on top of us and we just bounced back. How we came back from the bad moments was most pleasing. 

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“We did some good things and we built on last week’s performance. We just dug in last week (at Leicester in the quarter-finals). It wasn’t great in terms of how we used the ball but we built on it and we need to be better in the final because, at the end of the day, Toulouse played 100 minutes, had to travel home, had to travel back here again, so we have to take it with a pinch of salt. We don’t just want to get to the final, we want to win it – so we have achieved nothing yet.”

That prompted a request for his thoughts on the lingering frustration from the final of three years ago, an afternoon where Leinster looked poised heading towards the break to win their fifth title only to throw it all way and allow Saracens to take the spoils. 

“Small margins: 10-3 up just before half time, I made a decision to box kick, last play of the half, could have kicked it out and it would have been half time, but we wanted to go and try and put pressure on Sarries and get another score. We conceded and it was 10-all at halftime. 

“We let that get to us that day, came out after halftime, had a couple of chances to score, a couple of decisions went against and that is the game – they score and we are chasing the game against a team that loves when you chase. So very small margins and that is what you love in these finals, semi-finals.

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“That is something you need to work hard to make sure you are on the right side to win them because it is about the preparation and know-how and we need to use positive experiences. We have been a champion team before but we also have the Saracens final, what we could do better.

“You’d love to go back but in sport you don’t get the chance but now we have another chance. I never thought I’d get another chance and it’s great. We’re so driven to put the fifth star on the jersey. Every single person in the dressing room, whether it’s staff, guys who were playing, guys who weren’t playing, everyone is really driven. It’s a special environment to be a part of.”

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