JONATHAN SEXTON has had to be patient in his pursuit of the Leinster number ten jersey, but he recognises that experience cannot be usurped by ambition.
The St Mary’s College man has had a tough job trying to shift Felipe Contepomi from the fly-half berth, and is unlikely to do so for Saturday’s crunch Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster at Croke Park.
Coach Michael Cheika insists he will have some role to play, and the young pretender said he would love nothing more than making a first appearance at the Jones Road venue.
But although Sexton could not be happy that his seemingly natural progression to holding down the Leinster number 10 jersey has been restrained by Cheika and the presence of Contepomi, he admits he is still learning.
He adds that he has nothing but respect for the Argentinean, who moves on to a French adventure at the end of this season.
“We’re fighting for the same jersey, but we have a huge amount in common; I’ve been asked so many questions about Felipe that I have lost count, but I cannot say anything other than I have learned a huge amount from him; my style of play has probably changed up to 100% from the type of player I was at school. He has helped me a lot in that respect.”
Sexton admitted that once upon a time, he would have been happy to be categorised into the “kicking out-half” mould, but said that Contepomi, Cheika, David Knox and Alan Gaffney had all played significant roles in changing that mindset.
“I know now what I have to do if I want to play (regularly) for Leinster, and what I need to do to play international rugby. Those four guys have influenced me hugely.”
Some months ago, he might have thrown a tantrum at being left out; his future in a Leinster jersey was in doubt, but he signed a new deal. These days, he is more patient, more measured when he speaks, and more pro-active on the pitch for sure.
“I’m happy with my form; that’s what I want to keep doing, put pressure on Cheiks and he wants me to do that as well; I suppose everyone benefits if that happens.”
Hard times have not dented his enthusiasm; he admits he might have expected too much, too soon.
“I suppose you could look at Rob (Kearney) and Luke (Fitzgerald) and know that they pretty much made the grade quickly to provincial and international rugby, and now the Lions.
“Playing at out-half, I suppose you have to be a bit more patient to make the step up as first choice; you have to gain that experience and have that behind you. This season, I think I learned more than I did last season when, maybe, we were winning a lot more games and things were going smoothly.
“I hope to look back on this season and be able to say that this was the moment; this was the season in which I learned a lot of lessons and be absolutely positive about it. There were more downs than ups this season, but hopefully they can be used positively. I probably wouldn’t take back any part of the season.”
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