FOR JOHNNY SEXTON, the decision was the right one but the execution was off.

We’re talking about the 56th minute in Cardiff. Ireland had a handsome 27-10 lead but had been under pressure from the Welsh since the start of the second half.

Sexton received a pass out the back from James Ryan and opted to cross-kick to Peter O’Mahony from inside his own 22.

Mack Hansen had to be sharp to tackle Wales wing Rio Dyer after he intercepted Sexton’s kick.

Sexton would do it again.

“I was happy with a lot of the decisions I made,” said the Ireland captain of his performance last weekend.

“For example, the cross-field kick, I just need to have it a little bit shallower, but Dyer read it really well and made up some crazy ground in how fast he was.

“So I’d probably do the same thing again. It was a good decision but bad execution.”

Last weekend was just Sexton’s second game since November, so it was understandable that he was a small bit off in certain moments.

He recovered from surgery on a facial injury to lead Ireland into their Six Nations opener, while he has come through the HIA process and a dead leg this week to ensure he’s ready to start against France on Saturday.


Sexton is his own worst critic and he will be pushing himself for more in order to help his team to beat France for the first time since 2019.

“Stuff like that [cross-kick] is where you’re probably just slightly rusty because you haven’t seen that over the last few weeks or whatever,” said the 37-year-old.

“So brushing up on everything really, like first contact you’re going into, is the face going to hold up, you slide off a tackle or something like that.

“Plenty to work on leadership-wise. You know, when we lost our way a little bit at the start of the second half, trying to get the guys back into the next moment quicker, as opposed to losing six, seven moments in a row that led to unbelievable pressure.

“So there’s loads to work on. It’s always the way. You could be man of the match in other people’s eyes and you go in and do the review with the coaches and you walk away going, ‘It wasn’t actually that good’.”

There’s surely extra motivation for Sexton this week given that he missed Ireland’s two most recent games against France, both of them defeats. 

They were frustrating experiences for him and he admitted that he watched on feeling that he could have made a positive impact had he been fit.

“That’s the way you always feel,” said Sexton.

Of course, he has an interesting relationship with French rugby. Ever since his two-year spell with Racing from 2013 to 2015, the French media have been rather obsessed with him.

Plenty of it has been respectful but there have been some things that have upset Sexton, including “totally inappropriate” claims by his former French neurologist about his concussion history. 

Given the track record, Sexton said he has been expecting something to “come out of the woodwork” in the French media before Saturday’s game, but none of it sours his memories of living in Paris.

“From my point of view, I had a great couple of years there,” said Sexton.

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“I’ve got some great friends there, my son was born there so for me, it’s fond memories. It’s these weeks that things go the other way from the other side. Hopefully, it won’t this week but we’ll wait and see.

“I have great memories of living there and loved the country.”

While it wasn’t a successful stint for Sexton on the pitch in Paris, he enjoyed getting to know Top 14 rugby. Racing played at the badly-dated Stade Yves du Manoir in Colombes at that stage, so their players preferred away games, a rarity in French rugby.

There were lots of frustrations for Sexton but he did learn things that have influenced his game since. He explained that much of it was around culture and leadership, and what not to do.

“I was signed and I had some meetings with the president and he said, ‘I want you to change the culture and I want you to bring a winning mentality.’

“And I went in all guns blazing and figured out that there wasn’t that many people there to do the same thing, whereas I should have gone back and tried to make friends first and build relationships. It stands to me now.

“When there are new guys coming into the environment here you need to build relationships with people and Andy [Farrell] is big on that.

“So it was a good eye-opener for me, and at least then when you’re coming from a good place in terms of standards, at least you’ve got a basis to work off with someone.”

Sexton is very much still the one setting the standards with Ireland.

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