Jonathan Sexton has got a lot right in rugby but he couldn’t have been more wrong about Joe Schmidt.
When the recently crowned World Player of the Year first met the Kiwi eight years ago, he thought Schmidt didn’t have the steel to take over from the notoriously combustible — and successful — Michael Cheika at Leinster.
“I thought he was a bit too nice to be a head coach. How wrong could I have been?” Sexton told the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.
“He is, in fact, the most ruthless man I have ever met in terms of preparation.”
Sexton won a Celtic League, two European Cups, and a Challenge Cup under Schmidt at Leinster. Not to mention three Six Nations title (one of them a Grand Slam) with Ireland while seeing off the All Blacks twice.
Now club captain at Leinster, he was one of the leadership group at the club who met with Schmidt back in 2010 with a mind to the latter making the switch from Clermont Auvergne where he was an assistant to Vern Cotter.
“They said they wanted a few of the players to meet him. After the meeting Leo and Jonno asked me what I thought; I said I thought he was a bit too nice to be a head coach — the boys still slag me about it now.”
Sexton went on to laud Schmidt — named World Coach of the Year for 2018 — for the organisation and clarity he has brought to Irish rugby while also giving the thumbs up to Andy Farrell, who will take over as Ireland head coach after the 2019 World Cup.
Farrell, he said, will be “his own man”, much as Sexton and one of his heroes, Roy Keane, have been.
Sexton is a lifelong Manchester United fan. “What people don’t realise is that when you have a go at someone (during a game) you put massive pressure on yourself.
“Communication is a big part of the position I play and I try and manage the team as best I can. Roy Keane was a hero of mine. He always produced on the big days and I am sure it was similar for him with that leadership role.”