Sexton challenges youngsters to shine
January 25, 2013
Jonathan Sexton goes for the posts against South Africa © PA Photos
Jonathan Sexton has laid down the gauntlet to Ireland's next generation of players and has told them to emulate the stars who are coming to the end of their career.
This Six Nations could be Brian O'Driscoll's last while Paul O'Connell will miss the tournament through injury. The pair missed Ireland's autumn Test series programme and Sexton believes now is the perfect time for the youngsters in and around the squad to show the sort of consistency the older generation have demonstrated in the past.
"Playing with guys like Brian O'Driscoll has been an honour for me and I'd put a lot of other players in that bracket; you learn so much from these guys," Sexton said. "Those guys earned their reputations by producing in an Ireland jersey year in, year out, but it is time now for the younger guys to come in and start taking ownership of the team.
"The younger guys have produced on occasion but we haven't done it consistently and that's what we need to do now."
Sexton, who made his debut in 2009 and has since accumulated 34 caps, is referring to himself as much as anyone when calling for players to impose themselves. Test rugby has not been without its challenges for Sexton after a lengthy, and at times confidence-sapping, duel with O'Gara for the fly-half duties that at one stage left him repeatedly looking over his shoulder.
But O'Gara has been seen off - the 35-year-old now supplies support from the bench - with Sexton arguably the most accomplished European in the position. "People probably think I'm a new boy because I look about 15 but I'd say I'm somewhere in the middle," he said. "I've just turned 27 so it's up to people like me to take charge of the team.
"I found it hard when I first came in because Ronan O'Gara had been the outside-half in that team for 10 years. I wasn't sure whether the guys would listen to me in the same way they had listened to him. They are the kind of doubts you have when you come in."
Sexton's performances for Ireland and Leinster identify him as favourite for the Test number 10 jersey during the Lions tour to Australia this summer. "The tour is something I desperately want to go on, but it's not worth thinking about right now," Sexton added. "I need to concentrate on my week-to-week performances. People say it's the pinnacle and it is. Only the best players get picked and it will be a massive honour for anyone who is picked."
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