Sexton retired after the Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, bringing the curtain down on a 14-year international career.
Much of that was spent as Ireland’s undisputed first-choice 10, with the Leinster playmaker supplanting Ronan O’Gara as the nation’s all-time top points scorer in Test rugby during the tournament in France.
Munster’s Jack Crowley would appear to have the inside track on starting Ireland’s opener against France in Marseille on Friday 2 February, but Leinster’s Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley have also been named in Farrell’s squad. Uber-talented youngster Sam Prendergast will also be part of Ireland’s camp in Portugal as a “training panellist”.
The quartet have all spent time for either club or country as Sexton’s understudy, and Farrell believes that that education will have served them well as they try to fill his sizeable shoes.
“Hopefully how Johnny has been as a leader and, more importantly, as a world-class, once-in-a-generation ten, they have learned something from that,” Farrell explained at the Six Nations launch in Dublin.
“Ciaran Frawley certainly is [in consideration at ten]. Sam [Prendergast] as well, coming to Portugal with us and having ten days learning the ropes there. He gets to have a look at us and we get to have a look at him and see how that progresses.
“Jack has been around for some time now and he’s seen how Johnny goes about his daily life in making sure that Jack didn’t get his place and kept on competing. On the same train of thought, Harry got to work with Johnny every single day. We are going to find out a lot about their character in the coming weeks.”
Sexton’s retirement has also left a captaincy vacancy, which will be filled by flanker Peter O’Mahony.
The veteran back rower turned 34 and won his 100th cap during the World Cup, but has played some of the best rugby of his career in an Ireland shirt over the last 12 months.
While there was some thought that Farrell may look to a younger candidate like James Ryan or Caelan Doris, the head coach believes that O’Mahony’s similarity as a leader to Sexton should benefit Ireland as they bid for a repeat of last year’s grand slam triumph.
“Obviously there were a few candidates because we’ve got great leadership in the group,” Farrell said. “As far as a natural fit, coming from what we’ve come from before with Johnny, [Peter O’Mahony] is the type of leader that’s exactly the same.
“Certain people walk into the room and they make it feel right. It’s important on matchday that you have that person in the dressing room and Peter is certainly one of those. I have no doubt he’ll do the country proud.”