Johnny Sexton’s candidacy for World Rugby player of the year is “very fitting”, according to Ireland kicking coach Richie Murphy.
Fly-half Sexton is now the bookies’ favourite to land World Rugby’s top accolade, that will be dished out in Sunday’s annual awards ceremony in Monte Carlo.
Sexton spearheaded Ireland’s stunning 16-9 win over back-to-back world champions New Zealand in Dublin on Saturday, getting one over his player-of-the-year rival Beauden Barrett.
Barrett is Sexton’s main competition for the award and – having scooped the gong two years running – could become the first man to lift it three years on the trot.
Asked to assess Sexton’s candidacy for the award, Murphy replied: “Yeah, I think it’s very fitting; I’ve known him since he was in the Leinster academy and he’s always been a very driven player, massively talented and (with an) unbelievable head for the game.
“I think that’s where he stands out for me above a lot of the other players who are out there, his ability to see things on the pitch and pick the right options.”
Sexton’s stunning overtime drop-goal on the 41st phase of relentless play sealed a last-gasp 15-13 win over France in Paris that kick-started Ireland’s Grand Slam charge.
Joe Schmidt’s men defeated England 24-15 at Twickenham to scoop just their third Six Nations clean sweep in history this year.
Leinster star Sexton backed that up by guiding his province to the PRO14 and Champions Cup double, before Ireland sealed a Test series win in Australia.
The 33-year-old topped a stunning year with a superlative showing in his 78th Ireland cap, as head coach Schmidt’s men toppled the All Blacks – and all this after helping the British and Irish Lions to a series draw in New Zealand in 2017.
New Zealand wing Rieko Ioane and South Africa duo Faf De Klerk and Malcolm Marx complete the line-up of nominees for World Rugby’s top award.
Ireland skills coach Murphy hailed Sexton’s candidacy though, insisting the gritty playmaker can still raise his game to even greater heights.
“I think he’s in a really good place; there have been some high parts of his career and I think he’s in one of them at the moment,” said Murphy.
“He’s in great form, he’s working hard, his fitness levels look really good. I think he’s in a really good place at the moment.
“He’s still the guy getting off the line making the tackles. I remember last season in the Six Nations him having a pick-and-go near the line, so, that’s not a guy who is trying to look after himself.
“I don’t think he’s ever played the game like that and I don’t think that will actually happen.
“Maybe his fitness levels are a little bit higher than what they were 12 months, 18 months ago.”