Johnny Sexton wins personal duel with Paddy Jackson

Johnny Sexton has made a career out of performing when the demands are greatest and last night the Ireland out-half stamped his class all over his duel with Paddy Jackson.
Johnny Sexton wins personal duel with Paddy Jackson

This might not be Johnny versus Rog, yet, but you can be sure that Sexton, whose shoulders are easily chipped, wanted to douse the ambitions of his potential usurper for the Ireland No 10 jersey.

In a relentless opening quarter the ferocity of Leinster’s rucking and their intent in the collisions allowed Sexton to pull the strings and by the time he had put his side 13-0 up after 15 minutes, Jackson was yet to have a meaningful touch of the ball.

Sexton, on the other hand, had it 15 times and also had eight points to his name. Jackson’s main priority in that period was to cope with Ben Te’o running down his channel as he watched Sexton dominate proceedings.

An early Garryowen from Sexton allowed Luke Fitzgerald to beat Andrew Trimble in the air and from there Leinster applied the squeeze on the visitors. When Sexton neatly lobbed a ball over Craig Gilroy’s head and into the corner after some good work by Garry Ringrose, Ulster fluffed their exit as Pienaar skewed a box kick.

Sexton orchestrated wave after wave of Blue attacks inside the 22 before Eoin Reddan whipped a pass onto the bootlaces of Isa Nacewa, who avoided the whitewash on the touchline and dashed back inside to score.

With Te’o making life difficult for Jackson, Stuart McCloskey botched a wrap-around pass which would lead to a penalty and three points to the hosts. Within five minutes, Sexton would knock over another penalty to ensure round one went to the undisputed Irish out-half.

But Jackson has come a long way from the kid who faded away in the opening quarter of the 2012 Heineken Cup final. As Ulster grew back into the game, so too did Jackson. His array of passing was on show with Gilroy and Jared Payne the beneficiaries while McCloskey began to hammer at Sexton to even things up for Te’o’s battering of the Ulster playmaker.

Jackson would then clip over two penalties as Ulster began to slowly shift the momentum. His only slip came after good work from Henderson, Pienaar and Payne laid the groundwork for Gilroy’s try as Jackson missed the sideline conversion to leave two points between the sides at the break.

In a dramatic opening to the second, the initiative switched back to Leinster and Sexton as Ulster replicated the host’s violent opening to the first half.

However, this time the men on the back foot weren’t for budging. Sexton had been hobbling around holding his left glute after tackling McCloskey, but when Jamie Heaslip pinched a turnover and won a penalty the 30-year-old drove the touchline kick deep into Ulster territory.

From there, Leinster set up a maul and after some quick feet from Ringrose the attack swept into the left-hand corner, Sexton drew in Rory Best and passed to Te’o whose basketball style offload allowed Heaslip to run through Jackson to score.

To put a finer point on it, Sexton then nailed the conversion from the same spot that Jackson missed from prior to half-time.

As if for good measure, the next time Sexton had the ball he pierced it into Ulster’s backfield and saw it skip wickedly past Jackson into touch and secure the territory that would give Leinster another three points.

In the final act Ross Molony would intercept a pass from Jackson, but at least this time around there was no shame in losing out to Sexton, who is still the master of his craft.

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