'Johnny Sexton is always whinging, always bickering... there need to be some serious repercussions'
"Pretty ugly look for the game, up north."
For all his undoubted qualities, steel and match-winning moments, Johnny Sexton is someone that gets under the skin of the opposition, and their fans.
The Leinster and Ireland captain has been known to loudly remonstrate with the opposite team, his own teammates and match officials as he pushes himself, and others, to the limit to secure victory. However, Sexton has been criticised for remaining vocal and demonstrative even though he sat out Leinster's Champions Cup final defeat, on Saturday.
Sexton was purportedly involved in the half-time tunnel fracas, involving people from Leinster and La Rochelle, and he was pictured on TV, and by photographers, confronting referee Jaco Peyper on the pitch to share some post-match thoughts.
Interesting, many South African fans and pundits have called on Sexton to be sanctioned, in a similar manner to Rassie Erasmus when he publicly called out referees during the Springboks vs. Lions Test Series. Down in New Zealand, the incident was discussed on the Rugby Direct show.
"In terms of that incident," said New Zealand Herald's Liam Napier, "there needs to be some serious repercussions. If you look at what has been happening, in a broader context, with regards to referees getting abused online and Rassie Erasmus' Twitter rants. He was dealt with quite severely by World Rugby, and rightly so.
"And, look, Johnny Sexton was not playing in that match. He has absolutely no place in confronting referees and being in the tunnel. Yes, he's a great of the game, and connected to Leinster, but stay out of it. For me, it really reflects his attitude when he's on the field, as well, towards referees. He's always whinging, always bickering and he always gets away with it because he is captain. There needs to be a message sent here, particularly when you're not involved in the match-day squad, to be confronting referees."
The EPCR did confirm, after the game, that an investigation into the 'incident at half-time' would be taking place.
That tunnel set-to, and the presence of Leinster stalwarts Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien, was also discussed in the latest House of Rugby [LISTEN BELOW] following a drama-packed Champions Cup.
Greg O'Shea on Ronan O'Gara's coaching achievements
On the latest House of Rugby, there was a degree of sympathy for the Leinster players, after losing by a point from their early, winning position of 17-0 against La Rochelle.
As the show progressed, though, there was ample praise for La Rochelle coaches, O'Gara, Sean Dougall and Donnacha Ryan and former Connacht man [and proud son of Tralee] Ultan Dillane.
"As Johnny was coming up," recalled Greg O'Shea, "ROG was on his way down. They had many battles, over the years, and there was aggro. After the [La Rochelle] win, there were pictures of Johnny standing over ROG and screaming at him, at Croke Park in 2009.
"I think there may be something there because ROG never got his send-off, which he deserved. Munster never gave him one, Ireland never did, and he was actually getting abused by the media. Could there still be that edge from ROG? That he wants to prove he's still at the top of his game, even though it is now as a coach."
Former Leinster and Ireland star Lindsay Peat agreed and said that while 'everybody can have verbals' the best thing a person or team can do is let their rugby talk. "Everything ROG has done has spoke volumes," she added. "He might as well have given everybody the two fingers, basically."
The fact that Johnny Sexton and Ronan O'Gara were two of the four figures identified, in various reports, for their involvement in a tunnel flare-up at half-time in the final only adds another level to the complex drama of the former rivals for that 10 jersey.
Jason Hennessy pointed out that, along with his Test achievements, O'Gara was given the inaugural EPCR Player of the Year award, back in 2010, in recognition of his impact over what would eventually stretch to his 16 seasons in the European Cup.
"I remember that Scotland game in 2013," said Hennessy. "He had a poor game and was thrown out like a piece of rubbish." That was grist to O'Shea's mill, who proclaimed:
"I was a young fella, coming up in rugby, and it was sad to see. ROG was the man but he wasn't getting the respect like he should have. The way he used to play European Cup games, spiralling the ball into the corner at the old Thomond Park... I was like, 'This lad is on a different level'.
"And he never got his parade like Brian O'Driscoll got... and I'm sure Johnny Sexton will get the big send-off, in a bus heading down Grafton Street! But ROG has his two medals, isn't that right?"
"There's no buses going down Grafton Street," Peat thankfully corrected.
WATCH THAT HOUSE OF RUGBY EPISODE HERE:
- HOUSE OF RUGBY: Leinster's crushing loss, ROG's last laugh and big URC Final preview
- Leinster vs. La Rochelle: All the talking points, biggest moments and player ratings
- Gregory Alldritt deftly deals with Stuart Barnes question on Ireland's World Cup hopes
- Ronan O'Gara reveals Ireland ambition as more details of tunnel clash emerge
- Garry Ringrose on why Ross Byrne and Leinster did not kick late penalty