Johnny Sexton has enjoyed some spectacular years in rugby, but surely none can surpass his dream 2018.
A Six Nations Grand Slam, Leinster’s double, a successful tour of Australia and just a few weeks ago the historic victory over the All Blacks – tonight Sexton was crowned World Rugby’s Player of the Year.
Few can argue with the award for the Ireland and Leinster totem, and here we take a look at why.
IRELAND REIGN SUPREME
With the way Sexton and Ireland began 2018, perhaps we should’ve guessed at some of the triumphs to come.
Tasked with a tough away trip to begin their campaign in Rugby’s Greatest Championship, Ireland dominated large parts of the game at the Stade de France and came away 15-13 winners thanks to Sexton’s boot.
Ireland led for much of the game until Teddy Thomas replied late on – Sexton providing the perfect response to that late score with the clock deep in the red – his sublime drop-goal from distance one of the finest you’ll ever see.
Italy were vanquished 56-19 and Wales also tasted defeat at Aviva Stadium, with Sexton kicking seven points and driving his team up the field with his playmaking ability.
Scotland were defeated 28-8 with the Dubliner perfect from the tee and the crowning moment was yet to come – the 24-15 victory over England amid the Twickenham snow the most memorable of moments.
Joe Schmidt’s men are simply a different prospect with Sexton in the side, his kicking ability, indomitable defence and ruthless attacking game matched only by a will that seems to lift every teammate around him.
While the Six Nations was witnessing a historic third Grand Slam for Ireland, Sexton and Leinster were also enjoying much success in the Guinness Pro14.
The Dublin-based province dominated Conference B to finish top of the pile with 14 wins from 21 games with Sexton as ever a driving force.
Leo Cullen’s men were also proving irrepressible in Europe, Leinster powering past Exeter Chiefs, Montpellier and Glasgow Warriors in the group stage to go a perfect six from six.
At the beginning of April Sexton pulled the strings in the 30-19 quarter-final victory over Saracens before grabbing a try in the 38-16 semi-final victory over Scarlets.
Racing 92 awaited in the final as Sexton helped kick his side to victory with nine points to see Leinster crowned champions of Europe.
Back to the Pro14 and Scarlets were the last men standing to prevent a historic double.
As is so often in the pressure games Sexton rose to the occasion – winning the man-of-the-match award with a mercurial all-round display in the 40-32 triumph.
IRELAND POWER ON
Having conquered one hemisphere Schmidt’s troops headed Down Under and managed to claim the scalp of the Wallabies.
In stirring fashion, Ireland claimed their first series win over Australia since 1979, doing so by winning two Tests to one south of the equator.
The series got off to a testing start, the Wallabies defeating the Irish 18-9 in Brisbane in June, with Sexton on as a second-half substitute for Joey Carbery.
In a thriller in Melbourne, the Leinster man kicked 16 points in a 26-21 success that teed up a deciding showdown in Sydney – CJ Stander dotting down as they ran out 20-16 winners to bring a 39-year wait for a Test series win over the Wallabies to an end.
Further success would come for the 33-year-old playmaker in the autumn as Ireland produced a November clean sweep.
The perfect end to a year came for Sexton as Ireland defeated the All Blacks on home soil for the first time in 113 years, a mesmeric display of rugby from both sides.
The outside-half notched 11 points with the boot and once again displayed that sheer force of will that has now seen him recognised as 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year.