Johnny Sexton believes he is in much better shape heading into Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations campaign this weekend than he felt before the November Tests following his move to Racing Metro.
The Ireland fly-half left Leinster last May having signed a two-year contract with the French Top14 club, whom he joined a fortnight after he starred in the British & Irish Lions’ series win over Australia.
Sexton, 28, endured a hectic schedule following his Paris move, playing 13 straight games as Racing’s other out-halves struggled with injuries before his body gave way too, causing him to miss Joe Schmidt’s first game in charge of the national team against Samoa in Dublin.
That raised concerns in the Ireland camp that Sexton’s decision to leave the IRFU’s player welfare programme was having a detrimental effect on his fitness but the Irish playmaker will head into Sunday’s Six Nations opener against Scotland having reassured Schmidt he is in excellent condition.
“I played 13 games in a row off the back of the Lions tour, so I probably felt a bit drained going into the autumn internationals,” Sexton said in a BBC interview to be screened on Sunday.
“I picked up a few injuries during the autumn series too so I had a bit of a break after that and they (Racing) have managed me better after that.
“I’ve been starting one week and on the bench the next, and I managed a bit of a holiday last week too.”
Sexton was still required to leave the Ireland camp last weekend to play for Racing in their Top 14 clash with Toulouse and having turned in a star performance in the 25-5 win, the Dubliner admitted he was in a farhappier place now than when he first left his homeland to settle in Paris.
“There have been some games where I thought, ‘I’m walking in on Monday and telling them I’m going home’,” he said.
“Then there’s other games where I’ve come off thinking ‘right, this is the start of it, that’s brilliant, I could be here forever’. That’s the way with everything, I think there’s ups and downs along the way.”
“My wife and I struggled at the start, but it was pretty easy to settle into the club as there were plenty of people doing their best to make you feel at home. It was more the simple things, like going round to the shop, you don’t know where it is, going to get petrol — you don’t where that is, things like that.
“Everything’s just a stress, so it was tough going at the start. There are ups and downs, like everything else, you just have to make the most of it.”
Despite his happiness in France, Sexton praised the IRFU for managing to retain Test team-mates including Jamie Heaslip and Seán O’Brien rather than allow them follow him overseas.
“I think it’s great that they’re staying, the IRFU, fair play to them, they’ve really stepped up to the plate,” he said.
“I think it’s important for Irish rugby that guys stay. I sound like a hypocrite, but that’s the bottom line.”
While Sexton looks set to partner scrum-half Conor Murray at Aviva Stadium against Scotland, Murray’s back-up looks increasingly likely to be Isaac Boss, called into the squad yesterday following an injury to Eoin Reddan.
Reddan was rated by team manager Mick Kearney as “highly unlikely” to face the Scots having suffered a calf strain training on Tuesday with assistant coach Les Kiss adding: “We brought Isaac in. Eoin just had a slight problem with his calf.
“We’ll still give him until the end of the week.
“We will see what happens this rest day and the end of the week. It might be unlikely that Eoin is going to be there but we will give him a chance.
“Bossy has been here with us the last couple of weeks but he had a sensational game (for the Wolfhounds) against the Saxons so he is ready to step into the breach.”
Kiss also cast a doubt over the involvement of lock Mike McCarthy, who needed 23 stitches in a facial wound after being stamped on by Ospreys rival Ian Evans during Leinster’s final Heineken Cup pool game 13 days ago.
“When you saw him the first week when he came in he didn’t look nice,” Kiss said of McCarthy. “His face had swelled up and there was a lot of fluid in the head in a huge cut like that and it can’t escape anywhere like other parts of your body, it’s stuck in the skull area. It did look bad but it has come down a lot.
“He’s having to wear a lot of gear to protect it so there are some issues around it. It wouldn’t stop him playing but it can easily still open up.”
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