Jonathan Sexton let it be known last year that he would not walk gently into the good night as a rugby player.
In May, 2018 he told Ray D’Arcy of his plan to push on through to the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour, and how Stuart Lancaster had told him about American football star Tom Brady and his ongoing excellence as a quarterback into his forties.
Sexton will be 36 by the time the Lions tour South Africa. As he said himself, “not a crazy age” for an out-half at an elite level, but Felipe Contepomi suggests that even that tour against the world champions need not be the final frontier in his illustrious international career.
“I haven’t spoken with him, but I’m pretty sure he’s not ruling himself out of the next World Cup,” said the Leinster assistant coach with a half-laugh that suggested he was either joking or, at the very least, understood just what a reach that would be.
“He needs to keep fit, definitely, and age is something you can’t move backward,” added Contepomi who was 36 when he last played for Argentina.
It’s less than a year since Sexton was named World player of the year, but the odds on him making it as far as 2023 in France wearing a green jersey on his back are extremely slim. That said, Contepomi was really making a wider point about hunger levels in the wake of Ireland’s disastrous World Cup when asked specifically about the Ireland 10ten.
Some of that squad dribbled back into Leinster’s UCD base last week and all are on board again full-time again as of yesterday.
With their opening Champions Cup game just two weekends away there is little time to lose or dwell on what might have been and what was.
It seems unlikely that Sean Cronin will be available for that European opener at home to Benetton on Saturday week.
The hooker injured his neck during the tournament in Japan and has yet to return to training and Contepomi was adamant that there will be no rush of other test players back into blue in the near future.
“We want them at their best. If it is this week, next week or two weeks time, that is what it is. We don’t want to just have them for the sake of having them.
Playing Connacht away as early as Friday doesn’t help any plans that might be contemplated for immediate re-integration but there seems to be an understanding within the province that there is a long game that needs to be played here beyond immediate wants and needs.
Leinster’s Ireland contingent, like those from the other provinces who featured at the World Cup, started their pre-season back in mid-June and it may be late June of 2020 by the time some of them are done with a marathon season that makes a mockery of any talk from World Rugby and other ‘stakeholders’ about player welfare.
“That’s the challenge in northern hemisphere rugby, the seasons are so long, especially this year,” said Contepomi. “It’s moving on another month because the (PRO14) final is now June 20.
"Definitely, it’s part of managing and setting them up to be at their best. That’s the challenge we have as a team, as coaches, and also it’s one of the lucky parts of being in Leinster: you have depth and young players coming through, pushing boundaries and trying to make them stay at their best.”