A rugby player penning an autobiographic book about a year in their career is nothing new. Brian O’Driscoll did it. So did the Welsh players Gavin Henson and Sam Warburton. They tell the usual run-of-the-mill story about how the player built up one of the big international tours and their experiences on that tour.
Johnny Sexton’s new book, Becoming A Lion, would have been a straight-forward sports biography had he not signed a controversial two-year deal with the French club Racing Metro, becoming one of the first big Irish stars to depart the island for the wealthy French rugby clubs. His move fromLeinster to the Parisian club was one of the major talking points of the 2012/13 season.
In the book, Sexton speaks honestly about his frustration dealing with contract negotiations with the Irish Rugby Federation Union (IRFU), his decision to leave his beloved Leinster and the preparations for joining the prestigious 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour to Australia.
We join Sexton a few hours before kick- off to the final Test match of the Lions Tour. The series is tied at 1-1 and it is make or break for the tourists. It’s been 16 years since the Lions won a series and if they lose tonight, the future of the competition could be in jeopardy. Sexton is nervous as he tries to block out the noise of the fans surrounding the team hotel and reminds himself to focus on the task at hand; beating the Aussies.
We are then taken back to the previous year following Ireland’s disappointing summer tour to New Zealand. Sexton looks forward to get back to playing for his club and to make up for Ireland’s crushing loss to the All-Blacks. Presented in diary format, the Dublin born out-half gives us a week by week account of how Leinster progress in the first few weeks of their season and how he is already looking to impress the Lions coach Warren Gatland in order to book his place in the Lions squad.
He also tells us stories about his engagement to long-time girlfriend Laura, his friends at Leinster and his infamous temper and moodiness on the pitch.
Not long into the book we learn Sexton is looking to sign a new contract with the IRFU, increasing his salary now that he is cemented as Ireland’s first choice number 10.
However he bemoans the fact that contract negotiations don’t begin until November and how his agent begins to look around for offers from any other clubs (but only as an afterthought as he definitely “won’t be leaving Leinster”).
Soon it becomes apparent that the IRFU is not going to give Sexton the contract or salary he asks for, despite his protests that he knows the IRFU cannot match money other foreign clubs can offer and he simply wants a salary similar to others stars within the Ireland team.Honest
He passionately and honestly expresses his fury at the lack of decisiveness by the IRFU and how it affected his focus on playing his best for his team and country. His agent informs him that a number of French clubs are interested in signing him, including Racing Metro and will offer him generous salaries.
Sexton looks into the new offers but remains certain that his future is with Leinster and the contract will be sorted. But as the Six Nations approaches, the situation worsens when the IRFU refuse to budge with their original offer and Sexton decides not to bend to their terms and makes the difficult decision to leave Leinster and play for Racing Metro.Difficulties
In between his difficult contract dealings, the out-half deals with a hamstring injury that ends his Six Nations and puts his Lions place in doubt. He races against time to be fit for selection and to end his last season in Leinster with a bang. With his hard work and reputation, he secures his spot on the Lions Tour and offers us a brief glimpse about the life of a Lion.
While not a classic, Becoming a Lion offers us a rare insight into the world of a notoriously private sports star and the tricky corporate environments that are behind the scenes of sport. Sexton speaks honestly about his anger and disappointment with the union for not treating him with respect and undervaluing his worth to Irish rugby.
He holds nothing back and makes his opinions on the events of the last year very clear. Claiming the negotiations reduced him to tears, it’s evident that his move abroad was somewhat forced. Throughout the book, he reiterates that it was never about money for him but just about earning what he felt he was worth.
It is strange to see that in his first few months of the Leinster season he was adamant he was not leaving but changes his mind a while later – perhaps an act of a desperate man or a warning to the rugby union?Rival
It’s not all about his departure to France; we learn about his friendship and rivalry with Ronan O’Gara, even documenting their frosty beginnings. (RoG told Sexton to f**k off when he tried to apologise for infamously yelling in his face after Leinster scored a try against Munster in 2009).
Their issues began even before that according to the book. Even Brian O’Driscoll had words with the fly-half, warning him to control his temper on the pitch and to stop berating his teammates during matches. He shares his thoughts on former Leinster coach and now Irish head coach; praising him for his support. He even shares with us texts from his colleagues after news broke of his departure from Leinster.
Although a little light about information about the Lions tour itself, the book shows the pressure faced with trying to make it on a team of elite players and the dedication one must show to play rugby. There was probably never a better time for Sexton to release a book, given the intense media interest since signing with Racing Metro.
Fans of the rugby star will at least get the chance to hear his reasons behind the decision and his reasoning for not accepting the IRFU’s contract. It will be interesting to see how his career progresses in France over the next two years. Will it have been all worth the risk?
With the uncertain future revolving around the Heineken Cup and the breakaway Anglo-French tournament, will Johnny Sexton be the one to open the floodgates.
Hopefully a future autobiography by the man himself will answer those questions.