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Rugby World Cup: Sexton 'Ibrahimovic' jibe is out of order, blasts Devin Toner

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 08/10/2015

Class act: Devin Toner has jumped to the defence of Johnny Sexton
Class act: Devin Toner has jumped to the defence of Johnny Sexton

Ireland lock Devin Toner has dismissed reports emerging from France that described out-half Johnny Sexton as the Zlatan Ibrahimovic of rugby.

The Leinsterman, who returns to his native province after the World Cup following a two year spell with Racing Metro, was profiled by French newspaper Midi Olympique this week with an unnamed former team-mate at the Parisian club likening his behaviour to that of the mercurial, but temperamental, Swedish striker.

Sexton's time in the French capital was hardly considered a roaring success - a Champions Cup quarter-final was their best showing in Europe while they failed to reach the Top 14 final in either campaign, a competition won by cross-town rivals Stade last season - but this is the first time such grievances have been aired so publicly.

The article also contained quotes from Racing coach Laurent Labit stating that "at some moments Jonathan was really uncontrollable," and told of altercations with fellow squad members in training.

Toner, however, finds the characterisation hard to believe.

"Well, we couldn't even fathom him behaving like that," he said yesterday.

"He's just another player with us, he's not big-time. He's the 10 who runs the show but that's what we want.

"He's not big-headed, he's a very down-to-earth guy so we don't recognise that at all.

"He's the same as he was before he went to France. I've played with Sexto since schools' rugby so I'm pretty used to it to be honest."

The St. Mary's man is known to be a perfectionist, and demands similar standards from his team-mates, but Toner views such attention to detail as beneficial for the squad and expects it to drive the team forward.

"They mustn't have been used to that in France, but it's a hugely positive thing for the team if lads aren't getting their roles right," he said.

"He's not going to do it for the sake of it, he'll be doing it because there's a reason behind it.

"It will be because lads aren't in the right position or knowing their roles, so I think it's hugely positive for the team.

"Obviously they weren't used to it, but we're glad to have him back to be honest.

"I think he grew into being that kind of leader.

"Back when we were playing schools' rugby he probably wasn't as dominant, but now he's older and he's learned the game and grown into it."

With Ireland meeting France at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday - a crucial Pool D decider that will decide who tops the group -the 29-year-old hinted that the reports are likely nothing more than an attempt to destabilise their key playmaker ahead of the big clash.

"It's a hugely positive thing, it's not a negative at all," Toner said of Sexton's drive for perfection.

"I don't know whether France are trying to paint it out as a negative picture or not, but it's 100 per cent not.

"He drives the lads to be better, and you want to be better when you're playing with him.

"If I'm not in the right place and I hear someone screaming at me, I know I'm not in the right place and I'll think in my head 'I've got to get that right next time'."

Belfast Telegraph

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