Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

Johnny Sexton says the endless pain of being belittled by the British and Irish Lions fuels his beautiful form as he considers taking his career beyond next year’s World Cup.

Senior Ireland captain Sexton was devastated as he was ignored by Lions boss Warren Gatland for the 2021 South Africa tour, saying it “suffers like hell”.

The 37-year-old channeled this huge disappointment, inspiring his country to top the world rankings with a Six Nations Triple Crown and a historic series win in New Zealand.

His individual contribution was commended by being on the four-man shortlist for male player of the year at World Rugby this week.

Sexton had previously provocatively left the door open, saying “we’ll see” while outlining his plans to retire after the 2023 World Cup in France, highlighting the ongoing impact of the Lions rejection.

“The Lions selection gets me to where I am today,” said the fly-half, who was preparing for Ireland’s autumn final against Australia.

“Every time I feel like I’m overdoing myself, I think I wasn’t chosen for it.

“Again, that’s the idea, isn’t it? World Player of the Year is the opinion of a few. They think you’re doing a good job.

The coaches thought I wasn’t the right person for the job, and that’s life. You have to get over this. But you have to use it

Johnny Sexton rejected by the Lions

“When it came to the Lions selection, a few key people thought I wasn’t a good fit for that team, and it hurt.

“It just shows the indecision of the election and everything and you don’t want to come out of international rugby like that. This is a huge motivating factor.

“I would have preferred to be selected and I still think I would be hungry, but maybe sometimes you need that excitement.

“I’ve never been to South Africa and I always thought, ‘I’ve never been, but this will be that tour.’ The coaches thought I wasn’t the right person for the job, and that’s life. You have to get over this. But you have to use it.”

Sexton was left out after Gatland selected No. 10 challengers Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell before Gatland added Marcus Smith as injury protection.

The Leinster player announced his intention to retire in March after signing a contract extension to take him through to the end of the upcoming World Cup.

Now he has suggested that the decision may have been hastily made and partly due to unexpected inquiries from the media.

“Well, you surprised me when I announced the extension,” he said.

“I thought this was good news and (you asked) ‘does this mean you’re going to retire later?’ As if you couldn’t get rid of me fast enough!

“It surprised me. I wasn’t really expecting this question in the first place, I wasn’t prepared for it, and I thought, isn’t that a bit obvious? But we’ll see, we’ll see.

“I just need to concentrate on what’s in front of me and that’s all I’ve been doing – to concentrate on this season and try to make the most of every opportunity I get and please God go to the World Cup and see what happens next.” ”

Sexton is battling to face the Wallabies after he missed last weekend’s win over Fiji due to a dead leg in the victory over world champions South Africa.

Now that retirement plans are up in the air, he admits to conflicting views among his family.

“My brothers are after me,” he said. “Right now they are blaming me. ‘What will we do when you retire?’ they say.

“They love coming to the games, they feel like they are playing the game themselves. My wife doesn’t talk to me like that.”