- London Irish host Pirates on Saturday
- Tickets are on sale from 0118 968 1016 or www.lidirect.co.uk
Dublin may be at the epicentre of Saturday’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations, but 258 miles away there will be another raucous party going on – and lock Jerry Sexton cannot wait to walk out at the Madejski Stadium as London Irish host Cornish Pirates.
The 24-year-old had his first taste of the famous St Patrick’s Party a year ago, but with Irish enjoying a far more positive campaign this season, the volume is expected to rise.
And after his side do battle in the Greene King IPA Championship, Sexton will sit down with his teammates to watch the highly-anticipated RBS 6 Nations battle between Ireland and England, where his brother Johnny hopes to be the darling of Dublin once again.
Get the party started
Sexton may not be in his hometown for St Patrick’s Day but he admits the Madejski Stadium is a decent consolation.
The day may be celebrated in every pub, club and bar across the world but few places will carry quite the same atmosphere as Irish’s clash with the Pirates on Saturday.
The club’s annual St Patrick’s Party is back and with a crowd of about 11,000 expected, it promises to be quite the party – with Ireland’s titanic RBS 6 Nation clash to follow afterwards on multiple screens.
Sexton admits he will miss being in the Emerald Isle but with a promotion battle to attend to, he has other priorities.
“Dublin will be a lot of fun on St Patrick’s Day, especially with the match going on, but I try not to think about it,” he said.
“It is just a good day to spend with your family – and it is always good to see the parades in Dublin. If I was not playing myself then I would be over there watching Ireland. The pubs will be packed.
“Hopefully it will be a cracker of a game. I think Ireland will be disappointed with their performance against Wales and I am sure they will want to put things right but I just can’t wait to get out on front of our crowd on Saturday.
“London Irish have been holding this game since 2001, and they get huge crowds in every year. We are hoping to get 11,000 in which would be huge for a Championship game.
“It shows how loyal our fans are. The day is awesome too, the atmosphere is great – they put on a huge show, a festival outside with lots of beer tents and there will be a big screen for the RBS 6 Nations match. It is a major day for the club.”
After warming down from the match, Sexton will be especially keen to tune in and see his big brother, Johnny, strut his stuff at the Aviva Stadium as Ireland attempt to dash England’s hopes of a second consecutive Grand Slam title.
Having a famous sibling isn’t always easy and Jerry has often lived in his bigger brother’s shadow – but 31-year-old Johnny has always been a major inspiration for the forward."When we were kids I think it got very competitive and there were a lot of fights in the back garden."
The pair have come a long way since their battles in the back garden, where Johnny honed his brutal defensive skills by using his brother as target practice, but Jerry expects the outcome might be different should a modern-day rematch take place.
“When we were kids I think it got very competitive and there were a lot of fights in the back garden, we were always like that with everything and I think you need that. You need an edge,” he said.
“He is eight years older so I think he had the upper hand when we used to play as kids, but I have four stone on him now so I would be gunning for him.
“In London, no-one knows who I am. When I go back to Dublin I am recognised as his brother which gets annoying, but I know it is part of it. I like being in London.
“It was always dream to follow in his footsteps, and then watching him go on and play for Ireland pushed me to try and make it as well. He has always inspired me.
“I am not sure if I will ever make it as far, but he was definitely a big inspiration. He has always been very supportive, giving me advice and helping me”
Like his brother, Jerry has spent time playing in France and claims the move has played a pivotal role in his career.
He took the bold decision to uproot from his parents house in Dublin and test himself, pushing boundaries after stagnating in Ireland.
That led him to a one-season spell at Auch Gers in 2013, where he revitalised his game and matured both on and off the pitch.
The move may have lasted just 12 months but it was just the tonic Sexton needed as he became disillusioned with the game in his home country and travelling down a different path.
“I was not performing as well as I possibly could have. You have to sit down and look at your own performance before you can talk about anyone else and I was not at the level I needed to be and I did not happen for me,” he said."It was a great opportunity to move to France and it did me the world of good."
“In Dublin, you are around your friends, who may not play rugby, and getting mixed up with the university life and that does not work with a professional rugby player.
“But moving away showed me how much work I had to put in. I was in a bubble in Dublin, with friends and family – you never feel on edge.
“I made the decision just after the Under-20 Six Nations. Being involved in that was a really good experience but I did not see myself progressing in Irish rugby.
“It is not that I did not want to progress there but the door was closed and I needed to move away, so it was a great opportunity to move to France and it did me the world of good."
Irish eyes are smiling
Ireland’s loss is London Irish’s gain, and Sexton has thrived since moving permanently last summer from Aviva Premiership side Exeter Chiefs.
London Irish may have been relegated last season but their Championship form has been mightily impressive and a return to the top-flight is on the cards.
They still have a four-team play-off to negotiate but with 16 wins from 16 games, there is no doubt over who is the overwhelming favourite.
But promotion is far from sealed, and that may be why Sexton is remaining modest about their achievements so far, instead preferring to focus on the end goal.
“When we all came in last summer, Nick got us together and sat us down and told us that we have to work hard for each other and hold our values high then results will come,” he added.
“Hopefully we can keep them going. I don’t think anything has clicked really but we have worked so hard for each and everyone is very happy – it is a great environment to be in.
“We have not discussed the play-offs, we never look ahead too much so we are not feeling the pressure. We just hope to play well every Saturday.
“We are not taking anything for granted, in the next couple of weeks we face some seriously strong teams. This league is tough and it has been a real challenge throughout whatever the table says.”
London Irish will be hosting the annual St Patrick’s Party at the Madejski Stadium this Saturday 18 March against Cornish Pirates kicking off at 2pm.
This is the biggest game of the season with entertainment for all the family, the RBS 6 Nations last day on big screens and the traditional Irish welcome from 11am to 7pm. Tickets are on sale from 0118 968 1016 or www.lidirect.co.uk.