Leinster and Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton has revealed that he hopes to continue playing for Ireland beyond the 2022 Six Nations but doesn’t foresee new contract talks with the IRFU until after next year’s tournament.
Sexton is in line to win his 100th cap on Saturday when Ireland entertain Japan in the first of the November internationals that will see Andy Farrell’s side face New Zealand and Argentina along with the 2019 Rugby World Cup hosts.
However, his future has been of much speculation recently due to his current contract coming to an end upon the completion of the 2021/22 campaign.
Speaking on Tuesday about what the future holds for him in an Ireland and Leinster jersey, the 36-year-old said that he is in no rush to put pen to paper.
“At the moment I’m loving it, I’m loving training, my body’s good, my mind is good and yeah, in an ideal world I’d love to keep going,” Sexton said.
“But what I learned last year is that you can’t plan too far ahead, you really can’t.
“I had everything planned around what I was going to do on the tour in the summer and then suddenly it’s up in smoke, so I’m taking it game by game, campaign by campaign.
“I think the IRFU have been very good to me over the last seven years since I’ve come back from Paris in terms of… Like, we made a decision at the end of the Six Nations this year, I don’t think it will be any different this year, I think it will be wait until the end of that and see how we all are.”
He also played down the significance of reaching 100 caps for his country, something only a select few have achieved.
“I honestly will try and leave talking about myself to other people, as much as I can,” he proclaimed.
“But the ability to bounce back is something that I’d like to say I’d be proud of because in my career I’ve felt like I’ve had a lot of brilliant moments, a lot of winning trophies, all those things, all those special memories, but I’ve also had a hell of a lot of low points as well, which have always driven me.
“So, I suppose if you want to be a good role model for kids looking in, it’s don’t give up and always try to bounce back, and that’s what I’d like to think people would see when they see me.”
Despite being the undisputed number one out-half for close to a decade, Sexton struggled to get on the pitch for Ireland due to the stranglehold that his one-time rival and teammate Ronan O’Gara had on the number 10 jersey.
O’Gara’s presence meant Sexton did not make his Ireland debut until he was 24, something which he feels makes Saturday’s match even more special than it already will be.
“When you do get your first cap as late as I did, I know it’s not really old but compared to some other lads who get capped at 20, 21 – I had to work a long time to get that one cap and I was unbelievably happy to get the first one and they’re the most special ones.
“And yeah, I never in a million years thought I’d still be playing but I think over the last few years I’ve just taken it year on year and see how I felt.
“In the back of my mind you always had it, obviously I was gutted to miss the French game last year because I knew if I had kept fit and kept my form that I would have played 100th against England.
“But everything happens for a reason and hopefully getting your 100th cap in front of some people (supporters) would be more special, I think, and I’m trying to focus on the game, I don’t want to get drawn away from how important the game is and trying to get a performance early.
“We often haven’t hit the ground running and need to make sure we can do that ahead of the Six Nations, making sure we hit the ground running from week one.”
Sexton also had this to say about Saturday’s opposition as he prepares to face Japan for the first time in his illustrious career.
“At the World Cup game, I remember watching them, I was on the pitch watching Ireland’s warm-up and was drawn into watching the Japanese team warm up and how good they were, how good their skills were, even though it was the warm-up they were going at such tempo.
“We obviously learned a hard lesson at the World Cup and they are just a team that are unbelievably well coached, that’s what I see when I look at them. You can tell how well drilled they are and obviously their coaches come with big reputations from what they did with the Highlanders and winning a Super (Rugby) title.
“So yeah, I can’t say enough about them, and we will 100% give them the respect they deserve, we’re preparing as well as we prepare for anyone.”