‘Emotional’ Sexton braced for Guinness Six Nations swansong

Super Saturday is set to live up to its name for Johnny Sexton.

Super Saturday is set to live up to its name for Johnny Sexton.

Ireland’s star man could bid goodbye to the Championship as a Grand Slam-winning captain and the Guinness Six Nations’ record points scorer, all in his home stadium.

England are the opposition for this year’s fantastic finale, the same team Sexton kicked off his Championship career against some 13 years ago.

With a packed-out Aviva Stadium likely to be at fever pitch, Sexton admitted it will be a challenge to keep a lid on his emotions.

“Once I start getting dragged into that, you start getting away from how you’re going to make it happen – process, performance and making sure that you’re nailed on,” he said.

“I’m trying to get away from it as much as I can. I have got a bit more emotional the further I’ve gone on definitely, so I’ll be trying to hold that back but use it as well because hopefully it’ll be a special day.”

History beckons not just for Sexton, but for all-conquering Ireland too. Their previous three Slams have been won in Belfast, Cardiff and London.

A Dublin native, there is nowhere Sexton would rather lift the Championship trophy.

“It would be the stuff of dreams really,” Sexton said following his side’s dogged 22-7 win over Scotland in Round 4.

“That’s the bit we talked about from the start, that it’s never been done at home.

“It’s something we identified very early and said ‘imagine this happening, imagine having a shot at it at home in front of your family, friends.’

“It’s what you grow up wanting to do, I don’t know why you grow up wanting to be the captain of Ireland, maybe because the players you admire the most were captains but to do it would be dream come true stuff.

“It’s a great group of lads so to lead them is very special. Who wouldn’t be proud? Even just playing for Ireland to win a Grand Slam would be something.”

Ireland’s two clean sweeps in the Six Nations era have one thing in common – the team’s talismanic fly-half kicked a late drop goal for a crucial away victory.

In 2009 it was Ronan O’Gara and in 2018 it was Sexton. The pair now sit level on 557 points as the Championship’s all-time leading scorer.

O’Gara said earlier this week that his former rival for the No.10 shirt was ‘fully deserving’ of standing alone as the greatest, while Sexton joked the Munster legend might ‘pay me off to retire’ before the weekend – one which could also see younger brother Mark become a Grand Slam winner, as assistant coach for the Ireland Under-20s.

Ahead of his 113th and possibly most memorable cap, Sexton identified the two key areas behind his longevity at the top end of rugby.

“Luck,” he said plainly. “Being able to avoid those big injuries that you see cruelly happen to some players recently, [former Ireland and Leinster flanker] Dan Leavy for example. Top of his game. Number seven jersey and then it finished in one moment.

“Also being able to bounce back from adversity. I’ve had plenty of bad days, plenty of criticisms and scrutiny. Being able to bounce back from those bad moments.”

The good has outweighed the bad in a trophy-laden career for Leinster and Ireland.

And in a year in which Sexton hopes to bow out for good as a World Cup winner, he is hoping to use all of his big-game nous for what is essentially a final, as Ireland seek to win their first Grand Slam since 2018.

“For so long, you play in a lot of finals, you win some, you lose some, with different groups,” he said.

“We played a final in New Zealand, we played a final last year in terms of trying to win a Triple Crown against Scotland, we’ve created finals for ourselves over the last number of years so it will be no different. We are used to playing in them.

“Performance is key, getting it out there and playing really good is the biggest challenge. I think we showed against Scotland and throughout the last year that we can perform when the pressure comes on.”