Johnny Sexton admits motivation a challenge in lockdown

By Brendan O'Brien

Jonathan Sexton's drive has been tattooed across countless Leinster and Ireland performances for over a decade now but even he admits to struggling with his motivation at times during the current lockdown.

The Dubliner's last game of rugby was played on February 23rd when he captained his country to a 24-12 Six Nations defeat to England. That's over 12 weeks in cold storage for a man so accustomed to the white heat of competitive rugby.

Sexton and Leinster could well have been gearing up for a Champions Cup final in Marseille this weekend had Covid-19 not intervened. Undefeated in the pool stages, their home quarter-final against Saracens ultimately fell victim to the virus.

The IRFU's original plan was that players would return to training with their provinces this week but that was nixed after the government published its reopening roadmap which will keep competitive rugby on the long finger through to August 10.

It's no wonder then that the monotony of training can sometimes be a strain.

"Yeah, it is and you have to be honest there, you go through ups and downs, you know what I mean? You hear some good news and you're movitated, you're thinking, 'we're back to training next month and I'm gonna come back in great shape'.

"Then you get a setback and you're not coming back for another couple of weeks after that then and you get down on yourself," he explained in an Instagram Q&A for Laya Healthcare.

"But the season's just suspended, so we've got the end of the Six Nations to finish, we've got the European Cup and the PRO14 to finish, so a lot of things to stay motivated for."

The Leinster staff have done their best to keep the players going. S&C programmes and online interactions have helped, so too the fact that some gym equipment was dropped off at their homes when this whole thing started

"I purchased an assault bike before the lockdown, which is a horrible, horrible piece of equipment and one I'm struggling with a lot so there's loads of ways.

"In terms of kicking, you can kick anywhere. I've been kicking in the garden with a soccer net. So nail down the soccer net and just bang some bang some balls into it, get down to the park the odd time and kick down there, and it's fine.

"It's not ideal, but do what you can and hopefully it will stand to us, hopefully when we get back from all this the Leinster boys will be in great condition, and the Irish boys whenever we get to meet back up again will be ready to rock."

Sexton, like so many of us, has discovered the joys and the challenges of balancing work with kids although his wife Laura's teaching background means he gets to dodge the home schooling duties.

That question of balance extends to his training too. Fitness is one thing but a kicker needs to keep their eye in as well and that is a challenge all in itself with pitches out of bounds and travel restrictions still in vogue.

The 34-year old has taken to nearby Dodder Park some mornings to practise his kicking, sometimes accompanied by his eldest, six-year old Luca, whose eagerness to fetch balls tends to wane after a while.

That's okay. The key for Sexton right now is to not overdo it.

"We're training quite hard at the moment, so your legs wouldn't be ready for doing a hell of a lot of kicking. So once or twice a week, at the moment, and then I'll build up the closer we get to games or even getting back to group training, when you're going to have the skills on point."

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