Tries win finals. Most of them anyway.
It wasn’t the case just over a fortnight ago when five penalties were enough to pip Racing 92 to Champions Cup but it’s a maxim that holds true for the majority of games of serious import in the environs of elite rugby.
It’s why Sexton turned his nose up at a handful of, by his standards, attractive penalty kicks on goal on Saturday evening as the first-half of Leinster’s Guinness PRO14 decider with the Scarlets seeped into injury-time.
Twice the province went for the jugular with kicks to touch followed by lineouts and mauls before Sexton, operating in a claustrophobic corner of the pitch, slipped a sublime pass to James Lowe. Space was so tight that the Kiwi lost a boot in squeezing over.
Big calls, tight margins. It’s what separates champions from the rest.
Moments later and Sexton was spooling over the conversion and a 14-11 lead had been refashioned into a ten-point advantage. Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac touched on the weight of the blow afterwards but he isn’t alone in shipping the like of it recently.
Ireland scored first-half injury-time tries against Wales, Scotland and England on the way to a Grand Slam and Leinster had struck in almost identical fashion at the same juncture five weeks ago when obliterating Scarlets in a European semi-final.
If tries win games then tries on the stroke of the break crush souls.
“We scored against Glasgow as well,” said Sexton. “In the group stages we could have kicked it out for half-time but we went for the jugular and it paid off. Big decisions but it’s all in hindsight. If you don’t score people say you should take three (points).
“Same with the European Cup final. We had a set move off a quick tap. You tell the ref they’re not back 10, they are only five metres away, but he penalises you. It’s all outcome-judged. In my position, I’m well used to it. The decision is only as good as the outcome.”
Small margins, huge consequences.
Sexton hit on that exact point late on Saturday night. Ruminating on how all this love for both Leinster and Ireland this season could have curdled had a couple of key moments for club and country, against Saracens and England, fallen differently. Luck has something to do with that.
So does practise and talent and a host of other factors and the Lions out-half singled out how the younger players for club and country had benefited from, and even contributed to, the flow of ideas between the Leinster and Ireland camps.
Sixteen of those who played against Scarlets at the weekend made contributions to the Grand Slam campaign and another two are Ireland internationals who missed out on the Six Nations. The cross-pollination of cultures and the effect on the respective campaigns has been obvious. None has been more umbilical in that sense than Sexton.
Masterful in tactics, strategy and execution against the Welsh region, he showed a swift sleight of hands in deflecting any praise winging his way after the game. Stuart Lancaster, Leinster’s senior coach, spoke for him instead.
“Of all the players I have coached he is probably the best and I have coached some pretty good players with England. His ability to see, and his knowledge of, the game, his ability to inspire others, to get the best out of them, his desire to achieve things. His drive to be the best that he can be is what sets him apart.”
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