Johnny Sexton caught napping in race against the clock

Racing Metro 13 ASM Clermont Auvergne 13: Johnny Sexton expressed his bemusement with the French Top 14 countdown clock for goal-kicking after he was penalised for taking too long over a penalty in Racing Metro’s drawn league game with Clermont.

The league-leading visitors snatched a draw at Stade Yves du Manoir in Colombes on Saturday night with a late try from substitute wing Noa Nakaitaci, converted by fly-half Brock James. Sexton had kicked two penalties and converted a try by Marc Andreu he had set up with a neat crossfield kick.

Yet it was the one that got away which preyed on Sexton’s mind as he got through a tough 66 minutes in one piece ahead of Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations meeting with England at Aviva Stadium next Sunday.

His first shot at goal saw the one-minute countdown clock — an uniquely Top 14 institution — beat the fly-half, his preparations disrupted by lingering Clermont players and referee Romain Poite doing little to move them out of Sexton’s line of sight. Regardless, the late kick struck an upright.

“I couldn’t start my kick because the Clermont players were only five metres away and standing in front of me,” Sexton said. “I asked the referee twice and he didn’t respond to me, so that took 20 seconds out. All the kicks I took, I looked at the clock and I had 20 seconds to spare, so I don’t know why he wanted to make a decision like that but it turned in the wind at the last minute anyway so it wouldn’t have mattered, but it’s still frustrating.

“My own players were shouting at me to go because of the clock in the stadium. It’s not easy when your’e getting shouted at to go and I didn’t actually know why they were shouting because it’s only in France that this rule is in play. I don’t know, like, when do they start the clock?

“So for the rest of the kicks we waited for the tee to come on and we had loads of time. I don’t know, he (Poite) likes to make decisions like that and thankfully I struck all the rest. Even that first one was a decent strike but I rushed it a bit — when you’re own players are shouting at you to go I got a little bit quick on it and it hit the post.

“But the rest of them were good kicks in difficult conditions and tough underfoot into a breeze that can affect them if you don’t kick it well.”

It was not until just before the half hour that the Irishman opened his account with a penalty from left of the posts that was successfully taken with 18 seconds to spare.

With ball in hand, Sexton was being as lively as the game and its referee would permit, mixing his attack well with a long skip pass out wide here, a wraparound there and spiky confrontation with Clermont No.8 Fritz Lee that thankfully never came to blows. But for all Sexton’s promptings his team-mates did not quite seem up to the challenge. It was 3-3 at half-time, James having levelled in the 22nd minute and then Morgan Parra edged the visitors in front with a penalty six minutes into the second half. Sexton quickly cancelled that out before supplying a neat crossfield chip which bounced away from defender Zac Guildford’s reach and was gathered by Andreu, the Irishman converting to hand his club a 13-6 lead.

Sexton made way for Johan Goosen with 14 minutes remaining but it was Clermont who finished strongest, Nakaitaci crashing over in the right corner in the 72nd minute. Poite referred to his TMO and the replays appeared to show the Clermont sub had a foot on the line as he touched down but the referee gave the score, James converting.

The fly-half had a chance to snatch an away win at the death but his long-range kick faded right and would be the last kick of a game which ended with honours even.

RACING METRO: B Dulin; J Imhoff, C Laulala, H Chavancy, M Andreu; J Sexton (J Goosen, 66), M Mechenaud (M Phillips, 66); J Brugnaut (E Ben Arous, 56), D Szarzewski, capt (V Lacombe, 62), L Ducalcon (B Mujati, 56); L Charteris (J Kruger, 62), F Van Der Merwe; W Lauret, C Gerondeau (T Dubarry, 73), A Claasen.

Replacement not used: Y Audrin.

CLERMONT AUVERGNE: N Abendanon; Z Guildford (N Nakaitaici, 60), J Davies, B Stanley, N Nalaga; B James, M Parra (L Radosavljevic, 74); V Debaty, B Kayser (T Paolo, 66), D Zirakashvili (C Ric, 40); J Pierre, S Vahaamahina; J Pierre, capt (P Jedrasiak, 66), J Bardy (A Lapandry, 69), F Lee.

Replacements not used: E Falgoux, M Delany.

Referee: Romain Poite.

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