Sunday World Newsletter
Sign up for the latest news and updates
Never before had a nation won the men’s and U-20s Grand Slam in the same year.
Mark Sexton struggles to put the remarkable achievement into words. A day after he watched his older brother Johnny captain Ireland to glory, Mark was part of the coaching set-up that helped the U-20s win back-to-back Grand Slams in Musgrave Park.
Never before had a nation won the men’s and U-20s Grand Slam in the same year. That two brothers had such a key role in both successes made it all the more special.
Ever the professional, Mark (35) performed his duties with the U-20s on the eve of their Grand Slam decider before he drove up to Dublin and back down to Cork immediately after Saturday’s game in order to ensure he didn’t miss a beat with Richie Murphy’s outstanding young side.
“I did the team run at 11am, had a couple of meetings, got in the car at 12.30pm, picked up my wife, Dasha, and went to the match,” Mark tells independent.ie, recalling a whirlwind 24 hours. “It was hard to not celebrate with a few pints! But I got in the car and drove back to Cork and was back in the team hotel by about 10.45pm. I didn’t get to see Johnny. I watched the team lift the trophy, then it was a case of next job!”
Mark’s laser focus is so sharp it could easily be Johnny (37) speaking, as no sooner had he lifted the trophy, the talismanic out-half’s thoughts were already turning to the World Cup. “It’s hard to put it into words after Saturday, after Jono winning it,” Mark says. “I am incredibly proud of him. It was emotional. I was emotionally drained by half-time.
“Myself and my wife were at the game, my mum (Clare), my sister (Gillian) and her husband, my dad (Jerry). Everyone was there except my brother (Jerry), who had to work.
“It was just brilliant for Jono. He’s a true legend of Irish rugby and goes down in history as one of the greatest players, not only in Ireland, but the world.”
Dad Jerry was never going to miss Mark’s big day either, so he made the trip to Cork with daughter-in-law Dasha. “He always likes to support us,” Mark smiles.
The brothers will enjoy some down-time together this week, with Mark looking forward to catching up with Johnny and reliving the greatest sporting weekend of their lives. “We’ll go out for dinner,” Mark says.
As the Ireland U-20s gathered to watch the senior team beat England on Saturday, Mark was impressed by how the youngsters assessed the game and used what they had learned to their own advantage.
“It took the pressure off us slightly,” Mark says. “It made us believe even more what we could do. We saw how the senior game panned out and the lads just said, ‘We can’t do a few things the seniors did’. The seniors were brave and played to space but got loose at times. We didn’t want to get as loose, but I don’t know if it worked out like that!”
Mark has been working closely with the backs in his role as assistant attack and skills coach, so has spent plenty of time with Sam Prendergast.
Although it is unfair to compare the talented 19-year-old out-half to Johnny, watching his style of play and how he carries himself means Mark can see the similarities.
“Prendo is next level,” Mark, who is working with the Connacht Academy, maintains. “He is such a special talent, great guy, a competitor, (who) wants to win, a real leader. I see a long, long career for him. They have very similar temperaments. Two winners, very talented, good kickers, good passers, they see the game one step ahead, like all great 10s do. Prendo has a very high ceiling.”
Like Andy Farrell’s side, the page will quickly turn towards the World Cup, with the U-20s travelling to South Africa this summer.
“We’ll celebrate this for now, but like the seniors, we want to win a World Cup,” Mark promises.