‘He finds a way to win’ – former Leinster star says Johnny Sexton’s absence contributed to Champions Cup final loss

David Skippers
Ian Madigan and Johnny Sexton image.jpg

Former Leinster and Ireland fly-halves Ian Madigan and Johnny Sexton.

Johnny Sexton’s absence from Leinster’s line-up in their recent Investec Champions Cup loss to Toulouse contributed to the end result, according to the Irish province’s former fly-half Ian Madigan.

Sexton retired from the game after last year’s Rugby World Cup in France but he became renowned during the latter stages of his career for influencing the decisions of match officials by putting pressure on them.

Confronted the officials in 2023 final

This was evident in last year’s Champions Cup final – which Leinster lost to La Rochelle – when Sexton, who was not playing due to injury, confronted the match officials.

Sexton subsequently appeared before an independent disciplinary committee which found him guilty and he was punished with a three-match ban, which kept him out of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup warm-up matches against Italy, England and Samoa.

Despite those consequences, Madigan, who represented Ireland at Test level as well, believes Leinster missed having Sexton in their ranks against Toulouse, particularly his ability to challenge the officials in his role as captain.

“We missed Johnny at the weekend. You can break down the individual parts of the game,” Madigan told the Off The Ball podcast. “Was it his passing we missed or his goal-kicking? Ultimately, Johnny’s a winner and he finds a way to win.

“It’s the influence that he has on the players around him, the opposition and the referee.”

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Madigan gave examples from Saturday’s encounter at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London where he believes Sexton’s presence would have influenced the referee and other match officials to act differently.

“There were a few moments in that game, I think back to early on when Caelan Doris shipped a high shot from (Jack) Willis. Had Johnny been on the pitch, that gets reviewed,” he said.

“The edge that Johnny brings. You think back to that big moment when Leinster had attack after attack, turned the ball over, Toulouse hack it down field. Hugo Keenan and Van der Flier do a counter-attack and Josh gets carried over into touch.

“It’s such a big moment in the game but, if you look at it, Josh is getting headlocked by (Juan Cruz) Mallia in getting carried over the touchline. If Johnny’s there or Sean O’Brien’s there, we’re seeing a big reaction.”

Madigan believes that if Sexton was on the pitch he would’ve put extra pressure on the match officials in a bid to help Leinster gain an advantage in the match.

‘Big moments’ make a difference

“You need a reaction for the referee or the TMO to go, ‘geez, something must have happened there. Why did that player react?’ It’s those big moments,” he added.

“It’s Johnny’s ability to be on every single moment in a game was something that probably wasn’t spoken about a whole lot but was an unbelievable strength of his. He just had his finger on the pulse for 80 minutes.”

READ MORE: Where are they now? The last Leinster team to win a Champions Cup title