Fiery side won't hinder Sexton being captain material

Fiery side won't hinder Sexton being captain material

A moment, please, to think of the poor old referee today.

Jerome Garces hasn't had it easy here in Japan. There wasn't a ball kicked before Rassie Erasmus and the rest of the South Africa coaches were heaping pressure on the French official with their pleas that referees 'respect' the game and treat New Zealand the same as everyone else.

Garces was the man in the middle for that game in Yokohama.

Now he finds himself thrust into the spotlight again with Joe Schmidt highlighting the fact that, as an assistant referee last Saturday, he was responsible for making two incorrect offside calls against Ireland during their defeat to Japan.

That would be the same Garces who takes charge in Kobe today as Ireland meet Russia.

Topping all this off is the announcement that Jonathan Sexton will captain Ireland.

Sexton's sometimes black demeanour on the pitch is no secret but referees have, for the most part at test level, been spared the Dubliner's bark given he has only ever captained the side in fits and starts despite his ample experience and place in the leadership group.

Australia two summers ago, when Peter O'Mahony went off injured, was one such time.

“I know you hate me but you have to talk to me,” Sexton told Pascal Gauzere as O'Mahony left the field.

Garces will have him in his ear for most of the day today in Kobe, although the Frenchman will surely be spared the out-half at his most demanding given Ireland are expected to sweep past Russia without too much difficulty.

Sexton spoke earlier this week of what an honour it is to be entrusted with his country's armband from the off.

He also made note of how it has taken longer than he would have liked. Now 34, you can easily imagine him fuming quietly at the delay down the years.

He was just 24 when he formed part of a leadership group at Leinster that sounded out Joe Schmidt's credentials as Leinster coach and the list of honours, both personal and team, that he has amassed speak for his qualities as a player.

Sexton is one of those who has driven standards wherever he has played.

His refusal to accept second best, whether in a game or in preparation for one, has found favour with Leinster, Ireland and the Lions.

The only time his crankiness became an issue, apparently, was during his stint at Racing 92. One former teammate in Paris went so far as to compare him to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Racing coach Laurent Labit gave a revealing interview to Midi Olympique four years ago when he described a hyper-sensitive player who had a tendency to bawl his teammates out of it, so much so that it veered towards insult.

Johnny Sexton talks to his players at the Captain's Run at Kobe Misaki Stadium. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Johnny Sexton talks to his players at the Captain's Run at Kobe Misaki Stadium. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

“Sometimes I tore out my hair,” said Labit. “Johnny is someone who is perpetually putting everything in question and who obliges you to be constantly on alert.”

Devin Toner was asked to respond to that at the time. He declared himself all but dumbfounded at the manner in which Sexton's will to win was digested in France.

The Ibrahimovic comparison, in particular, was met with a large dollop of surprise.

“Well we couldn't even fathom that,” said Toner. "He's just another player with us, he's not big-time, he's the ten who runs the show.”

Crucial as he has been to Ireland, Sexton was overlooked for the skipper's role by both Declan Kidney and Schmidt but Leinster made him club captain a little over a year ago when Leo Cullen extolled his virtues and Felipe Contepomi backed him again last January after the ten overheated in a PRO14 game against Munster when Leinster's discipline let them down.

“I always go into the game with really good intentions,” Sexton explained last year.

At times I’ve let it spill over. I don’t argue with every decision but if I see something that I feel is blatant, sometimes I can’t help myself.

"As a ten, you are quite close to everything. As captain I have a bigger responsibility to talk to refs more productively. It’s probably a good thing for me.”

Contepomi made the point at the start of the year that it is Sexton's personality that made him the best player in the world last year and he wouldn't be the first fiery Irishman to captain his country with great success.

Roy Keane, for one, is evidence of that and Sexton has ample experience around him in the likes of Rhys Ruddock and Peter O'Mahony.

Ruddock, a quietly-spoken type, is a very different manner of personality who has captained his club and his country on numerous occasions and he has no doubt as to the type of skipper Sexton is, and can be here, as Ireland look to get their World Cup campaign back on the rails with a performance that ploughs through Russia.

“A very good one,” said Ruddock. “Last season, with him being the club captain at Leinster, I had a huge amount of experience playing under him but the natural leadership he displays was evident long before he captained me.

"He demands such high standards of himself first and foremost.

“Even if he’s not training he’ll always be looking to improve, in the video room, in the gym, and that just sets a tone for the people around him. He’s been no different this week.

"Obviously it’s been a tough week for the group but he has definitely led in the way he has driven himself and everyone else on.”

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