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We’re approaching the business end of our countdown of the greatest Heineken Cup players of all time. Coming in at number six is Leinster legend and current Racing Metro out half, Jonny Sexton.

6. Jonny Sexton (Leinster/Racing Metro)

As the old adage goes, it’s about quality not quantity. Jonny Sexton may have only made 41 Heineken Cup appearances but there can be no doubting the impact the Dublin man had on Leinster’s three success in the space of four years. Having been caught behind the irresistible Felipe Contepomi in the Leinster pecking order, Sexton was a peripheral figure in his debut campaign, making only two substitute appearances in 2007/2008. Having again been seen as Contepomi’s back up in 2008/09, Sexton finally broke into the team towards the end of the season after the Argentine suffered a serious knee injury. Sexton, belying his lack of experience, then steered his home province to their first European Cup, and never looked back.

His influence over the team was minimal throughout the course of that breakthrough campaign of 08/09, but by the time his second final rolled around 2011, the out half was an established leader within the Leinster camp, and also an Irish international.

Sexton’s virtuoso second-half performance against Northampton in 2011 was one of the great all-time individual showings in the tournament’s storied history. It’s widely recognised that Sexton delivered the half time team talk that roused the troops, as Leinster sat 22-6 in arrears at the interval. Sexton contributed 22 points as Leinster overhauled the defect to win by 33-22. Sexton’s second try in that final highlighted all the attributes that make him the most complete out half in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sexton’s 138 points in that 10/11 season, which comfortably saw him top that year’s points charts, has only been bettered by three other players in the history of the competition.

Not content with two victories, Sexton and Leinster triumphed again in the 2011/12 campaign, to become only the second side to win consecutive Heineken Cups, and to move past Munster as the most successful Irish side in the Heineken Cup. The pivot again led the charge, topping the point-scoring charts and guiding Leinster in their final rout of fellow Irish province, Ulster. During a time when Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt had Leinster playing some of the most exciting rugby in Europe, Sexton was very much the fulcrum of the side.

While the province who were chasing an unprecedented three in a row suffered the ignominy of being eliminated at the pool stages they regathered themselves sufficiently to go on to win the Amlin Challenge Cup and add a new piece of silverware to an already sagging mantelpiece.

The complete nature of Sexton’s game has been noted all across Europe, and his success hasn’t been restricted to club level. He starred for the Lions in their 2-1 tour victory over Australia in the summer of 2013, while he backed that up with a Six Nations Championship winner’s medal with Ireland in the spring of 2014. Sexton’s qualities were valued so highly that Racing Metro gladly parted with a considerable amount of cash to secure his services from the start of 2013/14 season, despite knowing he would spend ten weeks of the season with Ireland. While he struggled to make the impact many would have expected early on, Sexton has begun to find a rhythm as the season has progressed. Mixing his brilliant running game with a more refined kicking game.

One of the great narratives of Sexton’s career has been his rivalry with Munster legend Ronan O’Gara. As the young pretender to O’Gara’s Irish 10 jersey, Sexton made no bones about wanting to surpass Munster’s iconic pivot. The image of Sexton standing over a fallen O’Gara in the 2009 all-Irish Heineken semi final is one that will follow him throughout his career.

In an ironic twist of fate, it is now O’Gara who is tasked with taking Sexton’s game to the next level, as his coach at Racing Metro. The relationship between the pair has naturally improved and the days of the competitive hatred are now behind them.

While Sexton’s Heineken Cup points haul of 434 pales in comparison when viewed beside some of the legendary names to play 10 over the course of the Heineken Cup, there is no arguing with the correlation between the points he has scored and the trophies he has lifted. With the Heineken Cup nearing its conclusion, and with considerable miles left on the clock, Sexton could become one of the few players to gain legendary status in both the Heineken Cup and the new Rugby Champions Cup.

Ozer McMahon, Pundit Arena.

Stay tuned to Pundit Arena for the rest of our countdown. Numbers 10-6 can be found here on our dedicated section.

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