British & Irish Lions

Sexton seeks Irish legend's advice on art of captaincy

Johnny Sexton (Getty)
Johnny Sexton (Getty)

Dublin - Newly-installed Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has been seeking out the advice of predecessor Paul O'Connell for tips on leadership, on-field diplomacy - and even the importance of having a full set of teeth.

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The 34-year-old flyhalf will skipper Ireland for only the third time on Saturday against Grand Slam holders Wales having been appointed full-time captain by Andy Farrell prior to the Six Nations.

He began his campaign by scoring all of Ireland's points in an edgy 19-12 victory over Scotland last Saturday.

There had been some raised eyebrows over his elevation to the captaincy due to his sometimes moody demeanour on the pitch.

Sexton, though, said despite some puzzling decisions by French referee Mathieu Raynal in the Scotland game he had enjoyed a good relationship with the official.

Part of this may be down to his seeking O'Connell's advice - the retired lock skippered his country 28 times with Sexton a pivotal part of the side.

"I don't mind saying, I spoke to Paulie," Sexton told reporters at Ireland's training base on Thursday.

"Paulie spoke to me about one time he was playing (for Munster) against the Ospreys and Romain Poite was ref and he took his gumshield out and he had no teeth in and he spits through his teeth.

"Paulie looks angry at the best of times, even when he's happy, and he was just standing over Romain Poite.

"What he was saying was, again, probably perfectly acceptable but the way it looked or the way Romaine (who will be the referee for Saturday's game) felt was maybe not quite right."

The lesson from that for Sexton was even the most inspirational leaders may need to lay appropriate groundwork.

"Everyone makes mistakes in their game or parts of their leadership," said Sexton, whose first Test as captain came at last year's World Cup against Russia.

"I've made plenty over the years but I'd like to think I've learned some good lessons."

Sexton said he could learn from his opposite number on Saturday, Alun Wyn Jones.

"Yeah some of the best captains I ever watched growing up, they got the balance right but seemed to put the pressure on the refs quite well," he said.

"Alun Wyn Jones is a great example, he has that balance right, where he has a good relationship with them but is able to apply pressure at times and sometimes get them to check things.

"So it is a bit of a skill and he's obviously done it for a lot longer."

Sexton said he also picks up hard lessons from his captaincy of Leinster.

"One of the biggest games I learned from was in 2018 in the game against Munster in Thomond Park where Frank (Murphy) refereed," said Sexton.

"I played with Frank and I'm friends with Frank and he kept calling me over. And every time he called me over, the crowd would go absolutely crazy.

"And then a couple of times I did speak to him, I had my hands out or I was speaking over him and I looked aggressive."

A fractious game saw one Leinster player sent off and two sin-binned.

"What I was saying was perfectly reasonable and acceptable for a captain to say," he said.

"However, the way it was portrayed or the way things were taken was totally different so it's learning those lessons.

"Speaking to a few ex-captains and talking about that lesson and I got some good advice around that and hopefully I've been better since."

Teams:

Ireland

15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Josh van der Flier, 7 CJ Stander, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy

Substitutes: 16  Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Max Deegan, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Keith Earls

Wales

15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Aaron Wainwright, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones

Substitutes: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Johnny McNicholl

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