Leinster have leaders but ‘definitely not like Johnny’

For the first time in eight years, there’s a Johnny Sexton-sized hole at Leinster.

The 38-year-old, who rejoined Leinster from Racing 92 in 2015, retired from rugby following Ireland’s World Cup exit last month, ending a stellar career that included multiple honours with club and country.

Between injuries and international duty, Sexton often had long spells away from the province but this time around he’s not coming back and Garry Ringrose and James Ryan were named co-captains two weeks ago.

And as the rest of Ireland’s World Cup squad returned to club action over the last couple of weeks, something’s changed in Dublin 4.

It was common knowledge and openly spoken about by the players that when Sexton was around, there was a different atmosphere at training: “pretty noticeable” was how Ryan described it two years ago.

Anything resembling a drop in standards was met with a scowl and a scolding.

So what’s it like now and who’s filling the void in Sexton’s absence?

“It’s a bit of a shared effort for sure,” number 8 Caelan Doris tells RTÉ Sport. “We’ve got our co-captains, Garry and James.

“They definitely lead by their actions but they are also great talkers and hit the nail on the head when a point needs to be made.

“You’ve got those two leading the charge and there’s quite a big group underneath them as well who are willing to share and are very experienced as well.

“The likes of Ross Byrne, Tadhg Furlong, Hugo Keenan, so there’s plenty of IP [intellectual property] and knowledge in the room and lads who are definitely willing and who are being pushed to step up and share the load.”

Doris and his Leinster team-mates visited Kilkenny College on Monday

Doris made his return to action in the weekend’s win over the Scarlets as Leinster moved top of the BKT URC.

While still only 25, he has 69 Leinster appearances and 36 Ireland caps to his name and is now one of the senior players.

Ahead of Saturday’s derby meeting with Munster, Doris was asked if there’s anyone who can hand out “constructive criticism” like the 2018 World Rugby player of the year?

“Definitely not like Johnny, no, not at all,” he said.

“He had a knack for seeing absolutely everything on the pitch, keeping it in mind for a few phases and then delivering it precisely, sometimes angrily as well.

Johnny Sexton with Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong and Peter O’Mahony

“I think it’s not one person who’s just going to step up and try and be a Johnny.

“He’s obviously a very unique character who did that very well and did it for a long period of time.

“I think it is more of an openness and willingness from everyone to give constructive feedback and to take it.

“Like with Johnny, even though sometimes it was delivered in an angry manner it comes from a good place and wanting you to get better and wanting the team to get better.

“That’s still there and the openness and taking things on board is still there.”

Follow a live blog of Leinster v Munster (Saturday 6.30pm) on or the RTÉ News app, or listen to live commentary on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1

Watch Bulls v Connacht in the URC Saturday 3pm on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player

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