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Johnny Sexton admits the protracted disciplinary process which threatened to ruin his Rugby World Cup dream took a toll on his family but insists he is “not trying to play the victim”.
Ireland’s captain is unsure why he endured such a lengthy wait to discover his fate for “confrontational and aggressive” behaviour towards referee Jaco Peyper.
Almost two months passed between the fly-half’s heated exchange with the South African match official following Leinster’s 27-26 Heineken Champions Cup final loss to La Rochelle on May 20 and him eventually being hit with a three-match ban.
Sexton consequently sat out World Cup warm-up matches against Italy, England and Samoa but is available to start Ireland’s tournament opener against Romania in Bordeaux on September 9.
In the prolonged period when his punishment remained unclear, the 38-year-old, who is set to retire following the competition in France, faced intense speculation and public scrutiny amid calls for a substantial suspension.
“I’ve never seen another process last eight weeks or seven weeks, whatever it was,” said Sexton, who confronted Peyper on the Aviva Stadium pitch, having watched his province’s agonising defeat from the stands due to injury.
“It was incredibly frustrating not knowing what was going to happen. I’m not sure why it took so long, but that’s the way it was handled.
“I think when it affects your family you obviously go, ‘well, why are you upset?’ and (they reply) ‘this happened, this happened, this happened, this happened. Five weeks later, this is still happening’.
“Of course (you are aware of public commentary), but I’m not trying to play the victim.
“I made a mistake and I had to put up with what I had to put up with for seven weeks. You have to face up to your actions and that’s what I did.”
Sexton goes into his World Cup swansong having not played competitively since sustaining a groin issue in helping Ireland clinch a Six Nations grand slam against England on March 18.
His spell on the sidelines through injury and suspension means the 29-16 success over Steve Borthwick’s side was his final professional appearance in his homeland.
The 2018 world player of the year believes the “best guy in the world” meticulously plotted his road to recovery.
“For a kicker, to injure your adductors like I did is not ideal,” said Sexton, who was treated by a Doctor Griffin based in the UK.
“But thankfully the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) sent me to the best guy in the world.
“He did a great job, he mapped it out for me and he was literally to the day accurate in what he told me in terms of when I could return to training, when I could kick a ball again.
“Thankfully it’s been good over the last number of weeks. Hopefully I will be in good shape come Romania.”
Ireland head to France top of the world rankings on the back of Six Nations glory and last summer’s historic tour triumph in New Zealand.
I’ve been in groups before where you go to a World Cup and you say we’re here to win it but you don’t often have the achievements to back that up.
Andy Farrell’s men also face reigning world champions South Africa, Scotland and Tonga in their group ahead of a potential last-eight clash with either the host nation or the All Blacks.
Asked what gives him confidence of going all the way, Sexton replied: “What we’ve done over the last couple of years.
“I’ve been in groups before where you go to a World Cup and you say we’re here to win it but you don’t often have the achievements to back that up.
“(Whereas) we’ve got things like the grand slam, going to New Zealand and winning a series – stuff that other teams that have won it, like England in 2003 (have achieved).
“We’ve some evidence to give us a little bit of confidence but we also know that it’s the toughest group that we’ve ever had, the toughest quarter-final draw if we can manage to get through our group, so it’s all to do.”
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