By Gavin Mortimer
JONATHAN SEXTON is looking unlikely to play against the All Blacks at the weekend. The Ireland fly-half limped out of Saturday’s dispiriting 32-15 loss to Australia with a hamstring injury and the extent of his condition will be known once medics have consulted his scans.
Speaking on Sunday, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said in all probability the 28-year-old Sexton will have to undergo a fitness test later this week before any decision is made on the All Blacks game. “My expectation would be that he would have to train on Friday,” said Schmidt, adding: “He hasn’t really spent that much time with us training, he had a little hip-flexor issue plus we left him to rest against Samoa just because of the attritional game time he had already accumulated…I think the wear and tear of that game time has consequences, and unfortunately those consequences have fallen in our lap.”
Schmidt’s frustration – perhaps anger would be a more accurate description – is palpable, and it’s clear who he holds responsible for Sexton’s plight. Racing Metro.
Sexton signed for the French club last season, leaving behind Leinster for an alleged monthly salary of €52,000 (according to the French press, only Toulon star Jonny Wilkinson’s monthly wage of €56,000 trumps Sexton in the Top 14). Big bucks, but in return the Parisian club wanted their pound of flesh. And boy have they got it.
Up until the autumn international break Sexton had played 666 minutes of Top 14 rugby, not to mention 180 minutes of Heineken Cup action against Clermont and the Scarlets. But let’s just concentrate on the Top 14 today and those devilish 666 minutes of league action.
For Leinster last season, Sexton played a total of 668 minutes of Rabo12 rugby. That’s right, just two minutes more than he’s already totted up for Racing in the Top 14. Considering that Sexton is not even halfway through the Top 14 season and that, should Racing reach the final, potentially he has another 18 matches to play, then the ‘wear and tear’ Schmidt moans about is going to get far worse.
Sexton has played in nine of Racing’s eleven league fixtures, one game fewer than he played for Leinster last season in the Rabo12. In the 2011-12 season the Ireland fly-half featured eight times for his province (seven starts and one as a substitute) and in the 2010-2011 campaign he appeared in ten matches.
The days of Sexton being lovingly managed through the season by Leinster and the IRFU are long gone. As has been well documented, the Top 14 clubs have little sympathy with the international game, and who can blame them given the pay packets they dole out. Sexton – along with Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts and a host of other world stars – was hired by Racing owner Jacky Lorenzetti over the summer to transform the club’s fortunes after several disappointing seasons .
So far they haven’t been able to turn things around, and Racing lie ninth in the table behind the likes of the far less wealthy Grenoble and Brive. So Sexton’s fitness won’t just be causing concern in Ireland this week; there’ll be more than the odd Parisian hoping it’s nothing too serious. After all, Racing have a busy Christmas schedule coming up with three games in 14 days. Johnny is needed, dodgy hamstring and all.