Leinster boosted by Johnny Sexton captaincy, and fresh faces in 2018/19

Leinster boosted by Johnny Sexton captaincy, and fresh faces in 2018/19
Dublin , Ireland - 21 April 2018; Jonathan Sexton of Leinster celebrates after scoring his side's fifth try during the European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final match between Leinster Rugby and Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The reigning European Professional Club Rugby and Guinness Pro14 champions got their season off to a winning start, as they beat Montauban 17-18 in an preseason friendly, however they were swiftly brought back down to earth with a 17-42 loss to Newcastle Flacons in their second outing of the season.

While the focus is on fitness and combinations, earlier in the month, the squad were boosted by the announcement that out-half Johnny Sexton will take over the captaincy (from the retired Isa Nacewa).

In other staff moves, Leinster have also been bolstered by the addition of both Felipe Contepomi and Hugh Hogan to their backroom team ahead of the Pro14 season.

Johnny Sexton – Experience and more

33 year-old Sexton has won 76 caps for Ireland, and has become one of the most important members of Joe Schmidt’s Irish squad over the last three seasons. Having been the lynchpin in both the Leinster and Irish squads last year, Sexton’s experience and strive for perfection is the captaincy-model Leinster need if they want to defend both their titles.

The two-time British and Irish Lion, has won four Heiniken Champions Cups, a Challenge Cup, and three domestic (PRO14) titles with his home club. During that time, also becoming Leinster’s highest points scorer and the poster boy for kids to admire.

Speaking to Leinster Rugby, head coach Leo Cullen had high praise for Sexton. “Johnny is a player and person who is always striving to improve and get better, and he has driven incredibly high standards during his time at Leinster”.

Sexton was instrumental in much of the 2017/18 season; part of the senior leadership group and in a rich vein of form. It saw him part of a Grand Slam, claim a series win in Australia with Ireland. And that form should rub-off on the players who have idolized the St Mary’s College number 10.

One slight distraction…..Rugby World Cup looming

With the Rugby World Cup just around the corner for Joe Schmidt and Ireland, it is expected that Sexton will not see as much game time as he has in previous seasons. Not a negative, but a factor when you are in the elite level – something Leinster have experienced with players like Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.

Given his game time will be managed under the IRFU player management system, Johnny Sexton will likely only play in the in the bigger games of the season and won’t be seen in the early stages of the 2018/19 Guinness Pro14. Newly appointed vice-captain Rhys Ruddock will be tasked with leading the Leinster men to a good start domestically.

Rhys Ruddock, left, Luke McGrath, centre, and Fergus McFadden of Leinster following their victory in the European Rugby Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Racing 92 at the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Leinster Rugby appoint fresh coaching staff in 2018/19

Ahead of the new season, Leinster have added former Argentinian and Leinster out-half Felipe Contepomi, and Hugh Hogan to their coaching ticket. Contepomi will take over as backs coach from Girvan Dempsey – who made the switch to Premiership side Bath – while Hugh Hogan has taken the reigns as skills coach.

Having been the understudy to Contepomi for the early parts of his career, new captain Sexton will relish the opportunity to work alongside the Argentine. A combination that Leinster supporters should be very excited about too.

The changes will support the direction of Leo Cullen. His side were an exciting unit, and even with young maestro Joey Carbery exiting, their mindset will still be on searching for the tryline. Sexton and men like Robbie Henshaw and Gary Ringrose will hope to continue that style.

Touted as ‘one to beat’ then the assured leadership of men like Johnny Sexton will continue to retain Leinster’s place at the apex of the Celtic League and European Professional Club Rugby championship.

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Leinster begin their competitive season against Challenge Cup winners Cardiff Blues, on August 31, 2018.

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