London (AFP) – A key factor in Leinster and Ireland’s success this season has been the contributions of young stars such as lock James Ryan and back row forward Dan Leavy says their iconic fly-half Johnny Sexton.
Both former Ireland Under-20 skipper Ryan and Leavy, who at 23 is two years older than Ryan, showed maturity beyond their years in Ireland’s Grand Slam Six Nations campaign.
Leinster team-mate 20-year-old utility back Jordan Larmour, who was restricted to cameo roles in the Six Nations though he caught the eye with some deft footwork, is another who Sexton picked out for helping the province’s march to the European Champions Cup final.
Their 38-16 demolition of Welsh region Scarlets on Saturday takes them to within one win of a fourth European title — they will have to overcome Sexton’s former French club Racing 92 in Bilbao, Spain, on May 12.
“The professionalism for their age is incredible,” Sexton told BBC radio on Monday.
“With the Irish team the same guys came in and brought a freshness and an unbelievable mental hunger.
“It doesn’t happen by chance — these guys had to bide their time last year, and they are taking their opportunities now,” added the 32-year-old playmaker.
The blooding of youthful talent into Leinster’s starting line-up is nothing new given their centres Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are considered veterans both at provincial and Test level despite being only 24 and 23 respectively.
Sexton, full-back Rob Kearney, prop Cian Healy and man of the match from the Scarlets game former Wallaby backrow star Scott Fardy add an experienced balance to the fresh-faced youth.
He added Leinster needed to keep their nerve for a few more matches — they are in contention also for the Pro14 title.
“A few more games (to win) to make it a very special season,” said Sexton, who scored 18 of his side’s points on Saturday.
“But our toughest test is ahead of us.
“The expectation we have is from within.”
Sexton, who spent two largely unhappy if financially rewarding seasons at Racing before returning home in 2015, said the younger players would be best advised based on his bitter experience to ignore all the expectations placed on them.
“It’s important we ignore most of the noise from the outside, because people build you up to knock you down.
“I can tell you that personally, that’s just the way the world works.
“They will want to see us tumble at the last hurdle, so we have to take motivation from that as well.”