Ireland's new fly-half Jonathan Sexton is hoping a calmer approach will enable him to make a successful start to his international career in Saturday's game against Fiji at the RDS in Dublin.
Sexton admits he was often guilty of trying too hard in the past, but his career took a major step forward after he came on as an early substitute for Felipe Contepomi in Leinster’s Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Munster earlier this year.
A hugely composed display helped Leinster to a surprise victory, and Sexton then played just as well in guiding his side to success in the final against Leicester. Those performances meant that it was only a matter of time before he made his first international appearance.
The 24-year-old could yet emerge as a serious challenger to Ronan O’Gara for the number 10 jersey during the RBS 6 Nations Championship, a far cry from the situation he found himself in this time last season.
Sexton said: “I’d be lying if I said I was happy to be sitting on the Leinster bench rather than playing.
“But, looking back, I appreciate that I had to bide my time. I learned a lot from Felipe Contepomi and am probably better off having gone through those experiences.”
Fortunately, Ireland coach Declan Kidney had already noted Sexton’s potential and brought him into the Ireland A side to face Scotland.
Sexton added: “That was probably a big break for me because it was my performance for the Ireland A side that got me back on the Leinster team and I’ve pushed on from there.”
He certainly has, and his prospects of doing well on his full international debut should be helped by the fact that virtually all of the Irish back division is made up of Leinster players. The exception is Munster’s Keith Earls on the left wing.
Otherwise, Sexton will have Eoin Reddan partnering him at half-back, Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy in the centre, Shane Horgan on the right wing and Rob Kearney at full-back.
“It’s nice to have Eoin (Reddan) inside me, we’ve played five or six times together for Leinster now and we’re getting used to each other,” Sexton added.
Something else Sexton is getting used to is being a full international.
“At 24, I probably feel a bit old to be making my debut compared with guys like Luke (Fitzgerald), Rob (Kearney), Cian (Healy) and Keith (Earls). But I’m delighted.
“I suppose I’ve not been trying as hard to make things happen. I was probably trying a bit too hard at the start of last year. I just relaxed a bit. Now, I’m not sort of concentrating on mistakes and I’ve a more positive approach.”
Brian O’Driscoll has been suitably impressed, stressing: “He puts a lot of thought into his game. There’s a big work ethic and he’s talented.
“It’s been a big six months for him, coming into the semi-final of the Heineken Cup and controlling things the way he did. He’s provided a solid basis for us at Leinster this season and with every game he’s getting better.”