Johnny Sexton regrets ‘mistake’ which saw him miss Ireland’s World Cup warm-ups

Captain Johnny Sexton admits he instantly regretted the heated exchange with referee Jaco Peyper which caused him to miss Ireland’s Rugby World Cup warm-up matches through suspension.

Fly-half Sexton was hit with a three-match ban for misconduct for his behaviour following Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle on May 20 in Dublin.

The 38-year-old, who did not play in that match due to injury and is set to retire after the upcoming tournament in France, says the incident was a “mistake in the heat of the moment”.

He was on Sunday afternoon confirmed in Andy Farrell’s squad for the World Cup and is likely to make his return in his country’s Pool B opener on September 9 against Romania in Bordeaux.

Asked if he had any regrets about the on-field altercation with South African official Peyper at the Aviva Stadium, he said: “Of course, yeah. I’ve held my hands up since day one.

“I made a mistake in the heat of the moment.

“I was obviously very emotional on the day not being part of what I had mapped out from the start of the year as playing my last game for Leinster in the Aviva, winning a European cup.

“It’s what I dreamt of and then obviously to miss that, there’s a lot of emotion that goes with it and in that split second I went on to console my team-mates, I made a remark and I regretted it instantly.

“You make mistakes, you say sorry and hold your hands up and that’s what I’ve done.”

Sexton was forced off by a groin injury while helping Ireland clinch the Six Nations Grand Slam against England in March and has not played competitively since.

He watched from the stands this month as his country defeated Italy, England and Samoa.

Without the suspension, the 29-10 success over Steve Borthwick’s side on August 19 would have been Sexton’s final Dublin appearance.

“It’s been incredibly frustrating to have to sit and watch, it’s obviously my own fault,” he continued.

“But that’s been life, I’ve just had to do what I could for the team and try and learn by watching the guys and contribute where I could.

“It was particularly tough last weekend in the Aviva. You live and learn and it’s time to move on now.”

Sexton, who has 113 Ireland caps, was appointed skipper following the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Johnny Sexton, left and Andy Farrell, right, are preparing for the Rugby World Cup in France
Johnny Sexton, left and Andy Farrell, right, are preparing for the Rugby World Cup in France (Damien Eagers/PA)

The 2018 world player of the year feels “very privileged” to have the chance to lead his country into the forthcoming competition.

“(It means) a huge amount,” he said. “If someone told me four years ago I’d be back here captain, I would have taken it 100 per cent.

“There’s been a lot put into this team by the management over the last four years and to get their vote of confidence four years ago to do it with this as the end goal, it’s been huge.

“I’m very proud for myself, my family and just for the group that we have. It’s a very privileged position to be in with such a good group.”