‘There’s still one more box to tick’: Sexton striving for more after dream year

NEVER ONE TO sit back and revel in the achievement, Johnny Sexton’s unwavering quest for betterment will not be quenched by a dream season as he and Ireland strive for more next year.

Last night crowned World Rugby Player of the Year in Monaco, Sexton became just the second Irish player — behind Keith Wood in 2001 — to win the prestigious accolade, as a historic year received its rightful crowning moment.  

Sexton with his award in Monaco last night. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It was another truly memorable occasion for Irish rugby, as Sexton’s individual award formed part of a glorious triple in Monte Carlo, with Ireland named Team of the Year and Joe Schmidt recognised with the Coach of the Year award.

With Sexton the outstanding fulcrum, Ireland won 11 of their 12 Test matches in the calendar year, en route to a Grand Slam, series win in Australia and a November clean sweep, including a first home win over the All Blacks. 

The 33-year-old — Ireland’s reliable and ever-present commander-in-chief — lost just one of his 20 starts for club and country in 2018, the only blot being Leinster’s defeat to Toulouse last month, as he helped the province to a first-ever Pro14-Champions Cup double. 

It is the first time since 2011 a New Zealand player has not won the prize, with Sexton beating All Blacks duo Beauden Barrett — who was aiming for a third straight crown — and Rieko Ioane and South Africa pair Faf De Klerk and Malcolm Marx to the award.

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Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip, Gordon D’Arcy and Sexton himself had all previously been nominated, but the out-half had become the outstanding candidate through his big-game performances and leadership this term, leaving no doubt as to who the year’s best player was. 

In international rugby, Sexton has won 12 and drawn one of his last 13 starting Tests for Ireland and the Lions, while his only taste of defeat in a green jersey this year was off the bench in the first Test against Australia in Brisbane.

Landing 39 of his 50 place-kicks for Ireland in 2018, Sexton’s kicking ratio was 78% as he ended the year with 96 international points to his name, including that famous last-gasp drop-goal in Paris back in February. 

Having lost his voice, Sexton’s acceptance speech was read out by Ireland captain Rory Best.

“Thank you to my team-mates and coaches. If a number 10 wins an award like this, it is due to the team around him and his coaches making his job easier,” he said.

Sexton and his wife Laura. Source: World Rugby

“We have some of the best coaches in the world and are led superbly by Rory Best and Pete [O’Mahony].

“I’d also like to thank my wife Laura, who has been with me since the start. We have three young kids and she does absolutely everything to allow me to concentrate on the day job. I wouldn’t have been able to have the season I had without her.

“Thank you so much, it is an incredible honour. I look at the other nominees and admire all of them. Any of them would’ve been a worthy winner.”