Six Nations

Proud Sexton learning on the job as Ireland captain

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Johnny Sexton (Supplied)
Johnny Sexton (Supplied)

Johnny Sexton says he has used the hiatus in the Six Nations caused by the coronavirus pandemic to ask for feedback on how he fared as Ireland captain in the three matches to date.

The 35-year-old flyhalf was handed the armband on a full-time basis after grizzled hooker Rory Best retired following last year's Rugby World Cup.

A fortunate win over Scotland - Sexton scoring all of his side's 19 points - was followed by a more convincing victory against Wales but hopes of a second Grand Slam in three years were dashed by England at Twickenham in February.

The title, though, remains a possibility if they first beat Italy on Saturday and then France in Paris a week later.

The Irish are four points adrift of England and France, who have just the one match to play.

Sexton, who has played 91 times for his country, says the responses he had to his request for how he had fared had been constructive.

As his own harshest critic he said no one needed to tell him he had failed to perform up to his usual high standards in the loss at Twickenham.

"For me it was a good and bad time, a bad personal performance against England.

"The break allowed me a bit of head space and to reflect on leadership stuff.

"I have been searching for feedback from the leadership guys on what I did well and not so well.

"There have been some good insights, calls to people who have given me different views about how we might improve ourselves. The time off has been brilliant for that."

'Pinch of salt'

Sexton, the 2018 World Player of the Year, admits he knows what he needs to improve on as skipper but is coy about what it is precisely.

"There is some stuff I need to do better which I will keep to myself," he said.

"It is hard to talk about myself, you would be better off asking someone else. I might think one thing and someone else another.

"What one has to do is listen to those close to you like the coaches."

Sexton has a thick skin which is just as well as he says even the decisions that turn out well attract negativity.

"You can be criticised for some bold decisions you take for instance kicking into the corner instead of at goal," he said.

"Like against Wales you come away with a try but the decision might still be criticised even though to me it has been vindicated.

"Getting that bonus point against Wales could be important come the end of the tournament.

"Often you make decisions that do not come off and you take the criticism with a pinch of salt."

Sexton says he has no concerns about his fitness to distract him from leading the side.

He is also in a good frame of mind, better than when he was struggling through the England game.

"It can be very tough as being captain you are the guy who is meant to be leading by example," he said.

"It can be a hard place to stand and try and lead so it was a tough way to finish against England.

"However, I am happy with how I am going with Leinster but I want to go forward with this group.

"I am always searching for things to do better. The captaincy may have come a bit late in my career but that is no excuse you can always improve."

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