Belfast Telegraph

Sexton's story may be nearing an end, but he still has plenty to offer


Still valuable: Jonathan Sexton is in the Ireland camp despite being injured
Still valuable: Jonathan Sexton is in the Ireland camp despite being injured
David Kelly

By David Kelly

It didn't take long to douse the flickering flames of the story that Jonathan Sexton was contemplating another money-spinning move, this time to Lyon.

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But as the fire sizzled into so much nothing, as confirmed by Leinster senior head coach Stuart Lancaster, many Irish supporters, not to mention his employers, will be wondering just why such a story emerged.

That it was quashed with indecent haste was a remarkable piece of public relations by his handlers, which preceded by hours the confirmation that Andy Farrell was inviting him to his maiden squad gathering.

It would not have been a comfortable scenario had the coach and prospective captain held their first serious conversation while Sexton's people were sifting through a head-turning contract.

Currently injured, there has been a predictable post-World Cup rush to urge incoming Irish head coach Farrell to evict him, and several other apparent accomplices in Ireland's dismal Japan exit, from his first Six Nations squad.

And, despite being mentioned by many as a potential replacement captain after Rory Best's retirement, there have also been calls to leapfrog the out-half's candidacy and instead plump for the fresher, younger James Ryan.

Farrell will wisely caution against a needlessly rash response and, even if Sexton is struggling to make the kick-off against Scotland, it would be a dire miscalculation for the head coach to dismiss a decade and more of vast experience and nous. He will seek to dilute the over-arching authority Sexton seemed to enjoy as Joe Schmidt's on-field leader, but only a churlish coach would view the out-half as a threat or surplus to requirements.

With Joey Carbery's fitness always uncertain, and Jack Carty unable to build upon his 2019 development, it is not as if Farrell has a ready-made 2020 alternative ready and waiting.

By the time he tours Australia and exploits the November internationals, Farrell may have one by 2021. For now though, there is too much uncertainty for him to risk dismissing the certainty that Sexton brings, regardless of advancing age or outside observations about his dwindling form.

Sexton may indeed fancy one final fling when he comes off contract in 2021.

If they are willing to pay him half a million euros for the privilege, he will be long enough retired and few would cavil were he to get a pay-day unavailable to him here when he reaches veteran stage.

He has vowed to feature in one final Lions tour - an ambition unlikely to be realised.

But a chance at a second shot at redemption after his underwhelming two-year stint in Racing 92 appeals to him.

Life will go on without him sooner rather than later.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen, no more than Farrell, will have his thoughts on succession.

Before Schmidt ever contemplated such a thing, Cullen has opted to play Ross Byrne ahead of Sexton.

That firmness of approach will embrace Sexton, too.

Until that time, everyone is making the right noises, but this story is nearer the end than the beginning.

And yet as Sexton heads into Irish camp, he does so in the knowledge that he still remains one of the most coveted players around.

For now, at least.

Belfast Telegraph


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