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Sexton Earls
Irish rugby luminaries Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls have offered their insights to Netflix’s eagerly awaited rugby docuseries.

Following a screening of the first episode of Six Nations: Full Contact in Dublin last night, the recently-retired duo spoke at a Q&A at the Guinness Storehouse (which had earlier hosted the launch of the 2024 Championship).

On the subject of the camera crew’s access to Ireland’s inner sanctum during last year’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations – the focus of the series – Sexton said: “We let them in as much as we could. Not the tactical meetings, as some of that will be the same for this Six Nations, but we gave as much access as we could and I hope people love it. Reaching a more diverse audience is important for the game.”

Earls was asked what people’s perceptions of Sexton might be before watching the series. “A cranky old f*****,” he joked. “Nah, genuinely he’s good craic. I love spending time with him, and he’s a messer. He doesn’t want people to know about that!” Sexton likened himself to Roy Keane in response to a joke from Finn Russell in the opening episode where the Scottish fly-half made a comparison between himself and Lionel Messi.

Describing the number 10 position in which he has been hailed as one of the all-time greats, Sexton admitted that “it can be a lonely old place, but it can also be the best in the world when you and the team are winning. I always judged myself not on how well I played, but how the team played. What motivated me every day was how we played on Saturday. The series gives a good insight into how hard it is.”

As for the Guinness Men’s Six Nations itself – and season one documents 2023 edition, which Ireland took by storm – it will always hold a special place in the players’ hearts. “It’s the competition you live for every year,” as Sexton put it. “In a century, we’ve won four Grand Slams, so the lads will be desperate to put their name up on the history board again this year.”

One episode focuses on the considerable obstacles Sexton’s Leinster and Ireland teammate, prop Andrew Porter, has had to overcome in order to reach the sport’s pinnacle. “It’s inspired us as his teammates. Watching the show, people will think ‘how does this big tough guy go through all this?’” explained Sexton. “This shows why we love him as a person and why we love playing with him.”

Earls himself has publicly described his own mental health battles, and views Porter’s disclosures as important. “People might see us on TV for 80 minutes, and see us in an interview and think it’s great, it’s all hunky dory – and don’t get me wrong, we had a privileged lifestyle – but at the end of the day, we’re human beings.”

This year’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations begins next Friday, with the release of Six Nations: Full Contact timed perfectly to tee up what promises to be a thrilling tournament.

“It’s going to be a brilliant Championship,” said Sexton, who will be watching purely as a fan for the first time in close to two decades. Ireland travel to Marseille for the opening match next Friday night. “The first game is almost a Grand Slam decider, in my mind. Hopefully the lads can put in a big performance over there and put the show on the road.”

As for Earls, who made his Ireland debut in 2008, not participating as a player will be bittersweet. “When you see the likes of Duhan van der Merwe running like [he does in episode one] and having to mark him, you don’t get any sleep the night before,” he says. “We love those challenges, but I don’t miss waking up on a Sunday morning feeling like I’ve been in a couple of car crashes. But, you know, this is the first time I’m half-tempted to come out of retirement.

“You miss those big moments and big games. Having grown up watching the Six Nations, how much of an iconic tournament it is – the best tournament in the world – so it’s a bit depressing not to be in it. I’m looking forward to seeing how we go without the influence of [Johnny]. I’m sure it will be a back-to-back for Ireland.”

Does Sexton look forward to adding ‘Netflix star’ to his long list of accolades, which include World Rugby Player of the Year? “I’m looking forward to seeing the full series,” he answered, having only seen episode one, which features fellow fly-halves Russell and Marcus Smith. “My kids can’t wait for it to come out. It’s obviously much better when you’ve won the Championship!”

Six Nations: Full Contact is available to stream worldwide on Netflix from Wednesday 24th January.