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Sexton won't change because of late hits, says Fogarty

By Cian Tracey

For any regular ref mic listeners at international games, you will know that more times than not, it offers a fascinating insight into not only the conversations that the officials have on the pitch but the players as well.

Sean O'Brien, for instance, is one of the most vocal leaders for Ireland, par­ticularly in defence, and his voice can be heard more than most as he demands a high line speed.

James Haskell does the same job for England and on Saturday he was barking the orders at those around him. In the 18th minute, the abrasive flanker could be heard shouting "Sexton! Sexton!" at a breakdown.

Three seconds later, Maro Itoje had left Johnny Sex­ton floored with a late hit that somehow went unpunished by referee Jerome Garces. It was indicative of England's plan to target the Ireland out-half but time and time again, he bounced back to his feet.

Haskell's replacement Tom Wood followed Itoje's lead late in the game but Sexton wasn't to be deterred.

There was no whining on Sexton's part and why should there be? Every time he steps on to a pitch nowadays, he knows that he does so with a target on his back. But that said, Garces' policing of some of the late hits were questionable at best.

Sexton left the pitch on Saturday battered and bruised, just like he had done a week previously in Wales. He will sit out Leinster's game against Cardiff on Saturday but the province expect him to return the following weekend for the mouthwatering clash against Wasps when he will come up against some familiar foes.

Wasps will look to Haskell to set the tone in defence and with Nathan Hughes and Joe Launchbury also part of their pack, Sexton will know that he is in for another rough ride. Lein­ster also realise that but unsurpris­ingly they will not ask their talisman to play any differently.

"Johnny is an incredibly competitive person," scrum coach John Fogarty said. "He's going to want to stay on the pitch and play every minute if he can.

"He's a hugely influential player and he did a great job over the weekend. He took a few bangs but that's the nature of the game as well. We're certainly not cribbing at all and I don't think Johnny cribs.

"But you want to be looked after and when you bring the ball to the line like that, right to the line, and Joey (Carbery) does the same, when you're looking away, getting hit late is that bit dangerous - to the side of your head, the side of your body because you're a little bit exposed in a weakened position.

"You don't want to see a lot of that. For the most part, I think the bumps were alright. I think the Itoje one was a little bit late and probably could have been (sanctioned) more, in my opinion.

"I think that's just the way it is. There is a bit of attention to Johnny but he's healthy, he's in good form.

"Johnny has a real feel for the game. We want him to take the ball to the line at times. He's going to play the way he wants to play the game. We want him to take the ball to the line - late cuts, late footwork at the line. It's very, very hard to defend.

"I'm sure that they're (Wasps) going to want to put as much pressure (on him), and something Ireland did was put a hell of a lot of line pressure, and something that Johnny did actually really well was put a load of pressure on them. That's the nature of the game.

"You want to put Johnny under pres­sure because he's key to our attack. I'd like to think that we have other players in our system that we can rely on to attack as well.

"I think when we play Wasps, hopefully we'll be able to attack through Johnny and through other players on the field, and take good pressure off him."

Nigel Owens has been confirmed as the referee for the Champions Cup quarter-final and behind the scenes, Leinster will hope that he offers Sexton more protection than Garces did at the weekend.

"There are a team of three referees out there. They're in charge of making sure that the players play the game fairly and are nice and safe," Fogarty added.

"We trust those guys to do their jobs. If we feel that it's happening in a game, we can influence our players, our captain to have a chat. Rory (Best) did that very well at the weekend - him saying 'I have a duty of care to our players'. That was great to hear. And he does.

"That would be the same for us, but certainly from a coaching point of view we're not going out there petrified that Johnny is going to be hit, and we're not trying to take care of Johnny."

Belfast Telegraph

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