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Irish icon Sexton draws motivation from his critics

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Ireland’s fly-half Johnny Sexton (right) is tackled by France’s Gregory Alldritt during the Six Nations rugby union tournament on October 31. AFP

Irish icon Sexton draws motivation from his critics

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton says nothing motivates him more to carry on playing than being written off by the media and former players.

The iconic 35-year-old fly-half returns to the fray on December 5 – after missing two games due to a hamstring strain – in the Autumn Nations Cup third/fourth place play-off with Scotland.

He has in the past said he wants to play in the 2023 World Cup.

However, a series of injuries and occasional performances below his very high standards have prompted some to suggest the 2018 World Player of the Year should have second thoughts about that.

“Yeah, massively,” he replied at December 1’s press conference as to his desire being fuelled by those saying he should hang up his boots.

“All I want to do is be the best I can be, first of all, and if that means I’m the best out-half for any given game or whatever, then why shouldn’t you play That’s the attitude I’ve got.

“I want to be the best out-half in Ireland and I still have aspirations for other things as well.”

A typically forthright Sexton said several factors played a role in his wishing to play on.

“I’m not going to just retire because you guys [media] want me to,” he said.

“I’ll keep going if I feel good and I feel hungry, and I know some past players want to retire me as well, but I’ll crack on.”

Sexton’s central contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) comes up at the end of the year.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora said on November 30 that new contracts were dependant not on age but on form.

“I don’t want to come out and say how I feel I’m playing,” said Sexton.

“I feel good when I’m out there on the pitch, and now it’s just about getting out there and performing to prove that there’s more in me.

“I feel there is, I feel I can get to another level, and the day that’s not there is the day I’ll walk away.”

‘Much reduced pay’

Sexton also says age should not come into it as there are several precedents of players playing on at the top level into their late 30s.

He said: “There’ve been guys on teams over the years that have gone to World Cups at 37, 38.

“Brad Thorn, a guy I played with who is my inspiration at the moment [he played till he was 41], those type of guys.

“Richie McCaw winning a World Cup at the age he did [34], Dan Carter having an incredible [2015] World Cup having been written off and struggling with injuries for numerous years and then coming back and having that impact.

“Do I think I can get there? I think I can.”

Sexton – who has spoken to Thorn and others who carried on well into their 30s – said in the end it may not be up to him.

“I’m still hungry, I still love the game, I still love competing, I still love training,” he said.

“However, you’re only a big injury away from being finished totally, no matter what age you are.”

Sexton says he is relaxed about the IRFU biding their time to come to the table with an offer for him and several other teammates.

“Look, it’s an uncertain time for everybody round the world.”

“We’re working with people here in the backroom, staff that are on much reduced pay, a lot more so than us as players, and they don’t have security going forward.

“The guys that are making the decisions in the Union probably don’t have any certainty either in terms of their future.

“We’re all in this together and we’ll get to the right solutions when we can and when the time is right and there’s a clear picture of what’s in front,” he said.

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