Ireland: Johnny Sexton reveals motivation gained from Lions omission in 2021

Dylan Coetzee
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton against Springboks

Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton claims his strong form this year is powered by being left out of the British and Irish Lions squad that toured South Africa last year.

Sexton openly admitted that it was a tough decision to process but used it as motivation to work harder and perform better.

Sparkling form

The approach has clearly worked, with Ireland rising to the top of the world rankings and Sexton himself being nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year award.

“The Lions selection still drives me to this day,” he said.

“Any time I feel I’m getting a bit of ahead of myself I just think back to not being picked for that.

“Again, it’s opinion, isn’t it? The World Player of the Year is a few people’s opinion. They think you’ve done well.

“When it came down to the Lions selection, a few important people thought that I wasn’t the right fit for that team and it hurt like hell.

“It just shows the fickleness of selection and everything, and you don’t want to go out from international rugby like that. It’s a big motivating factor.

“I’d rather have got picked and I still think I’d be hungry, but maybe sometimes you need a bit of a stir up like that.

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

Lions coach Warren Gatland opted for Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell and Finn Russell ahead of Sexton, who has just signed contract extensions with Leinster and the Irish Rugby Football Union taking him until the end of next year’s World Cup.


Despite mentioning the possibility of retirement, Sexton claims he is just focused on getting to the World Cup and will make the decision whenever it needs to be made.

“Well, you guys caught me by surprise when I announced the extension,” he said.

“I thought it was a good news story and (you asked) ‘does this mean you’re retiring after?’ like you can’t get rid of me quick enough!

“It caught me by surprise. I genuinely didn’t expect that question in the first place, I hadn’t prepared for it and I kind of thought is it not kind of obvious? But we’ll see, we’ll see.

“I just need to concentrate on what’s ahead of me, and that’s all I am doing – concentrating on this season, and trying to make the most of every opportunity I get, and please God get to the World Cup and then see what happens.”

The veteran admitted his family have weighed in on the retirement discussion and offered a variety of schools of thought.

“My brothers are on to me,” he said. “They’re giving me guilt at the moment. They’re saying: ‘What are we going to do, like, when you retire?’.

“They love coming to the games, they almost feel like they’re playing the game themselves. My wife is not talking to me like that.”

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