Coming towards the end of his first full season with Leinster and with a Magners League winners’ medal safely locked away, Jonathan Sexton is a happy man but last weekend’s title success has the 22-year-old out-half hungry for more.
Sexton has become the latest in a line of Leinster players to insist that their Magners League title win will hopefully be the springboard for success in the Heineken Cup.
Speaking ahead of Friday’s final Magners League game against the Newport Gwent Dragons, the Dubliner said: “We’re all delighted to have won the league title but we’re determined to use this success as a stepping stone to go on and really challenge for the Heineken Cup.
“There was a lot of talk about that after the win over the Dragons (at the RDS), and that has to be one of our main goals from next season.
“It is important that we remain consistent in the Magners League too, because if you look at it, the great sides like Leicester and Wasps win or compete strongly in their domestic competitions on a regular basis.”
Looking back at Leinster’s league campaign this season, one thing stands out for Sexton and that is the level of support which the province’s fans have consistently supplied, particularly at their temporary home of the RDS.
“It was great to beat Munster home and away, beating Ulster at home on St. Stephens Day was a good feeling, but I suppose the one constant source throughout the campaign was in playing in front of big crowds at the RDS.
“I played in ‘the Last Stand’ at Lansdowne Road and we had half the numbers at the home game against Munster, but twice the volume. It was just incredible. Hopefully the supporters and the fan base will continue to be a major part of our success for many years to come.”
Last Saturday was a memorable one for Leinster as they hammered the Dragons 41-8 to secure their first league title since 2001. Their young number 10, who has slotted seemlessly into the province’s star-studded back-line, admitted that the day and the celebrations afterwards simply capped off what has been ‘a really enjoyable season.’
“There was a fair bit of anxiety in the build-up to last week’s game, personally speaking, because the level of expectation was so high. But thankfully we managed to put in a strong performance and the celebrations afterwards were really special.
“I have enjoyed the whole season. I know that I benefited from Gordon D’Arcy’s absence but I really learned a lot playing alongside him and Felipe (Contepomi) at 12 as well as the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Christian Warner, Mick Berne and Fergus McFadden over the season.
“It has been great to play alongside all the backs, and in that regard ‘Whits’ (Chris Whitaker) has been a massive help,” Sexton added.
“He is a top class performer and has so much experience because he has achieved virtually everything you can in the game. He’s willing to give you tips and encouragement and that gives you a lift during training and in matches.”
It has not all been plain sailing for the St. Mary’s College clubman. With Contepomi his rival at times for the number 10 jersey and a thumb injury keeping him out of key games for Leinster and Ireland’s Six Nations training squad, Sexton has experienced highs and lows and is determined to keep pushing on in his development.
“Being left out of the Heineken Cup squad once or twice really drove me on. I was especially pleased to come back to play in the last few games after the thumb injury I sustained against Leicester in January, because I thought that my season was over at that stage,” he admitted.
“I’m pleased with how things have progressed over the last few months. I feel as though I have established myself a bit more in the squad, but you can’t be complacent because with Isa Nacewa and other new signings coming in it will be up to all of us to knuckle down over the summer and try to kick on.”
Already he is looking to next season and views Friday’s encounter with the Dragons at Rodney Parade as an ideal chance to impress Michael Cheika and his coaching staff ahead of the summer break.
“Friday’s game is a huge one I think, because it will present players with a chance to stake a claim for next year. I see the Dragons game as a great opportunity to step up to the plate and try to give the coaches some more options.
“The Dragons are dangerous with ball in hand. A few of the tries that they conceded (last Saturday) were from turnovers, but we were conscious in the build-up to last weekend that we needed to guard against their attacking threat.”