Ireland's Johnny Sexton was named World Rugby's Player of the Year on Sunday. Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

LONDON – Some have cast the relationship between Ireland coach Joe Schmidt and Johnny Sexton as like father and son - and the latter has from the outset been in the precocious category.

Ireland's world-class fly-half - who crowned an extraordinary year by being named world player of 2018 on Sunday in Monaco - was instrumental in persuading Schmidt to leave French club Clermont where he was assistant coach in 2010 and take on the top role at Irish province Leinster.

However, Schmidt was slightly taken aback by the then 25-year-old Sexton's response when having expressed doubts to him, and two other senior players, Leo Cullen and Brian O'Driscoll, about whether he could run such a club with relatively little experience.

"You don't have to worry about that, we'll do that," Sexton said.

On Sunday, Schmidt was named world coach of the year and his Ireland charges won team of the year.

Sexton recalls that Schmidt struck him as "a driven man" at their first meeting and the New Zealander quickly found his feet.

"Rather than winning being everything, it was all about values and how you act day-to-day, on and off the pitch," Sexton told the Eamon Dunphy podcast earlier this year.

The two values that left an impression on Sexton and the others were discipline - on and off the pitch - and being humble.

"He (Schmidt) doubted how humble we were, as people and an organisation, so that became a word and something to work on," said Sexton.

The combination certainly worked as they collected successive European Cups in 2011 and 2012, a European Challenge Cup and a Pro14 trophy.

Humility is a characteristic Sexton and his Ireland team-mates, with all their success - three Six Nations titles including the Grand Slam this year and two historic wins over world champions New Zealand - endeavour to put across.

But on the pitch there is no doubting the playmaker is liberated by Schmidt.

"To put it simply, he makes our job easier," Sexton said in an interview in 2015.

"Some coaches judge on the outcome rather than the decision. If I decide to run the ball and we've an overlap, that’s the right decision (for Joe); and if the guys on the outside drop it or make a balls of it, that will be their fault, not mine.

"So it's great that I go into the game with a clear mind as to what he is looking for."

'Clarity of thought'

Schmidt played the role of mentor when he went to France and convince Sexton to end a largely unhappy two years at Racing 92.

It says a lot about the value Schmidt places on Sexton, who admits he took the money from the Paris club because he felt taken for granted by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), that he made the effort to go and see him.

It is something he patently did not do for either Sexton's understudy at Leinster and Ireland, Iain Madigan, nor flamboyant back Simon Zebo when they left for Bordeaux and Racing respectively. Both have not been considered for selection since.

Schmidt's admiration for Sexton is encapsulated by the drop goal in the final move of the match - after 41 phases of play - in their opening Six Nations match with France this year, setting them on their way to the Grand Slam.

"He had a bit of cramp at the time and was fatigued himself, but his clarity of thought and ability to win those big moments is second to none," said Schmidt.  

Sexton too is appreciative of Schmidt's coaching abilities - he said this week he has left an "unbelievable mark" on Irish rugby.

In 2015 he let slip a rare insight into Schmidt's persona and his interaction with the players.  
"He does everything enthusiastically with a smile on his face and players feed off that," said Sexton.

"It creates a very positive atmosphere.

"At the same time, he's ruthless. He'll slate you with a smile on his face."

Agence France-Presse (AFP)