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‘It’s like he’s got more time than anyone I’ve seen’ – Ala’alatoa on what makes Sexton one of a kind

MICHAEL ALA’ALATOA KNOWS A LOT ABOUT CAPTAINING. Among his teammates at the Crusaders were Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, and Scott Barrett.

Ala’alatoa has added Johnny Sexton to that list since joining Leinster in the summer, and reveals what makes the out-half stand out as a leader.

“It’s like he has more time than anyone I’ve seen,” Ala’alatoa says.

“Nine times out of ten, he sets up the attack correctly. I see it more and more as we train. It’s remarkable to see.

I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Richie Mo’unga, but Johnny’s style is unique. He’s always three or four steps ahead. His standards are so high that he will let you know if you are not on the same page.

“As you saw against Bath, he created opportunities. That’s because he’s sending the appropriate signals and keeping the boys focused.

“It enables us to execute. It’s been great to learn from him.

“The most essential thing is that he leads by example. You’ll follow a player who plays that well. You want a captain like that.

“His messages in the huddles are always focused on what we need to do next. It’s task-focused, so it’s been fantastic to be around him.”

It was clear that despite his team’s dominant advantage, Sexton wasn’t always satisfied with the way things were going on the game.

It said a lot about Leinster’s standards. Despite thrashing Montpellier and Bath in their last two games, Stuart Lancaster was eager to point out that there is still much to be improved.

Ala’alatoa was part of a Crusaders team that won three Super Rugby titles in a row from 2017 to 2019.

The feeling is great, but we also see areas where we can improve. We scored many tries but missed a couple (against Bath).

We could’ve scored more if more passes went to hand. We know that once we play the harder, bigger opponents, it would be more harder for us to get our attacking game going. We won’t get the same chances, so we must act now.”
The tighthead has swiftly transitioned into life in Leinster, contributing power and attacking flair to the Leinster pack.

“It was a bit of a learning curve at first trying to understand how Leinster play,” he adds.

Because the Leinster style of rugby is so different from the Crusaders, I feel like I have a decent grasp of how Leinster play rugby now.

The ball is something I really enjoy doing, so I’m trying to place myself in positions where I can have an impact on the game. It’s been great.

“The difference between Leinster and the Crusaders is that Leinster play an attacking brand of rugby. The teams we play against vary greatly.

Then they run up on defence, putting pressure on the ball carrier and their talents. The greatest change is in the setpiece… “In Super Rugby, the setpiece is contested more fairly, but here, every scrum and lineout is contested fairly.”