Leinster and Ireland rugby out half Johnny Sexton, recently named as the ‘World Rugby Player of the Year,’ talks to Donna Ahern about his new role as Brand Ambassador for Mace and the many highlights of his sporting career to date.
What has been the highlight of your rugby career to date?
I would say winning the Grand Slam and the European Cup in the same year (2018) has probably been the highlight of my on-field achievements to date.
Who do you see as the team to watch in the group for next year’s Rugby World Cup?
You can’t take anyone lightly in our World Cup group next year. Obviously, Japan are playing at home, so they will be very difficult to beat, and Scotland are always a very difficult test.
How would you describe your role as brand ambassador for Mace?
There are two aspects to my role; one is that I feature in Mace’s new TV advertising campaign (which you might have seen by now!).
Secondly, as a brand ambassador, I see my role as working with MACE and its retailers on a number of community initiatives that are aimed at encouraging children and families to lead healthy, active and positive lifestyles. The first of these initiatives, which ran in October and November, encouraged random acts of kindness.
Entrants had to demonstrate how they have performed random acts of kindness in their local communities to be in with a chance to win a training session with me for their local school or club. I am genuinely proud to be working with Mace in promoting positive community initiatives throughout every town and village in Ireland.
This Autumn, Mace gave a local school or rugby club the chance to win an exclusive training session with you. What can the winners expect?
Being out on a rugby pitch is where I am most comfortable, so to get the chance to show children some good ways to train or play sport together is something I really enjoy doing.
Team- work and exercise have formed a really important part in my health and well-being, so it’s great to share some tips with children via the platform of a fun training session.
Will you be taking the kids through a training regime similar to the one that Joe Schmidt takes you through before an Ireland game?
Definitely not! I think we will keep it a bit more light-hearted than the training sessions we do in Ireland camp under Joe and his team!
What do you enjoy most about your current role with Mace?
It’s really interesting to understand more about the world of retail and the role it plays in local communities around the country.
Mace retailers are extremely proud of the positive contribution they make to the communities they serve, and working with theMace team has given me a real insight into the commitment and dedication that they and their staff have in engaging with their local communities.
The brand itself has been around since 1960 but they are doing some really interesting things in developing their stores and what they offer shoppers, particularly in their fresh food and healthy eating departments.
Do you know why you were chosen to represent the brand?
Primarily, I hope that they saw me as a good role model in terms of how I go about things and as someone who would represent their brand in a positive and appealing way in the local communities where MACE stores are present across Ireland.
What Mace advertising or promotional campaign have you most enjoyed in recent months?
Filming the TV ads really took me out of my comfort zone, but the atmosphere on set was fun, particularly with the director Declan Lowney who has worked on Father Ted and loads of other comedy shows. The ads show me taking everything in life as seriously as I take my rugby, even shopping! I don’t mind being the butt of the joke and the feedback we’re getting has been very positive.
Do you have any other further projects lined up with Mace?
Yes, we’ve got some great activities coming up in the New Year based around Mace Right Options, which promotes health and wellness – so you’ll have to watch out for that when it launches in January.
What is the best piece of advice that you can give to any aspiring rugby player?
Work hard, believe in yourself, never give up.
Can you tell me something about yourself that we don’t already know?
At this stage, probably not!
What does winning the World Rugby Player of the Year award mean to you?
On a personal level, I am absolutely delighted to win this award. To be recognised by my peers and the voting panel as the best player in the world this year is pretty humbling.
The reward is not just for me, it is for all my team mates, my coaches, my friends and my family who have always been there for me and supported me along the way. It would not have been possible without the support that I have received from them over the years.
Does Ireland's historic victory against the All Blacks mean that we now the number one rugby team in the world?
No, that was just a one off game. I don’t really buy into the rankings as anyone can beat anyone on any given day. We just need to make sure that we win the games that matter over the next 12 months.
How do you feel about Joe Schmidt's departure and what impact will it have on Ireland's future?
Like everyone else, I am very sad to see Joe leaving. He has been a brilliant servant to both Irish and Leinster rugby and will be missed. He has put world-class foundations in place and has changed the culture in Irish rugby.
All that work will pay dividends for the sport in this country going forward and it will make the transition over to Andy Farrell in 2020 a lot easier.
Is there an extra pressure on Ireland to do well in the World Cup, in light of the team’s recent successes?
I do not believe so; the pressure we experience comes from our own expectations of ourselves as a group. Going into 2019, we will look at England in our first game in the 6 nations and then just take it one game at a time from there. There is no point in getting ahead of ourselves next year, as there is a lot of rugby to be played between now and the World Cup.