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'I thought it was easy in my first season' - Sexton hungry for trophy success

The Ireland out-half is excited about the challenge that awaits against Owen Farrell’s England at Twickenham.

Jonny Sexton is an ambassador for Aer Lingus.
Jonny Sexton is an ambassador for Aer Lingus.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

A VICTORIOUS LION, triple Heineken Cup champion, double Pro12 winner and possessor of an Amlin Challenge Cup winner’s medal too; Jonny Sexton is indisputably one of the finest out-halves in world rugby and yet, he has won nothing with Ireland’s senior international team.

At 28, and having managed to ride out the most turbulent period of a high-profile switch to Racing Métro in the French Top 14, Sexton is now ready to change that nagging fact. His excellent form in the Six Nations wins over Scotland and Wales was no mere coincidence; this is a man focused on glory.

His international debut came in November of 2009, when the Dublin native guided Ireland to victory against Fiji and South Africa in his first two starts. Just months later, Sexton’s next two starts in the 10 shirt saw Declan Kidney’s side beating England and Wales to set up a potential Triple Crown.

However, the early perception of future dominance built by those victories simply hasn’t come to pass, with a Dan Parks-inspired Scotland spoiling that 2010 party at Croke Park thanks to a dramatic 23-20 win.

I thought it was easy in my first season, straight in, we beat South Africa and we were playing Scotland for a Triple Crown. I just thought it was going to be the first of many, we’d just take on from the generation [before]. It just hasn’t worked out like that for numerous reasons.

“It would be great to win a piece of silverware and the Triple Crown is a big one, I suppose, in a weird way. I remember that Scotland game. It was almost like the Triple Crown wasn’t a big deal because the guys had just come off the back of four Triple Crowns in a short space of time.

“It wasn’t a big deal. Now, it would be huge after the last few seasons that we’ve had. I took it for granted. Looking back, I would have loved it. I haven’t won one and it would be fantastic to do it. It would be another stepping stone to potentially winning the Championship.”

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Sexton has been in superb form for Ireland in the Six Nations so far. ©INPHO/Colm O’Neill.

Intentions clearly stated, Sexton is aware that “you can’t do either of them without beating England at Twickenham.” Indeed, the Triple Crown is on the line in just 11 days, when Ireland will take to the London turf aiming to signify their recent improvement by claiming a trophy.

Sexton’s most recent visit to Twickenham in an international capacity was as part of the 2012 side that was demolished 30-9 by Stuart Lancaster’s powerful team. That day, Ireland looked muddled and unprepared for the physical onslaught that always awaits in Twickenham.

So far, Joe Schmidt’s version of the national team look like being the antithesis of such displays, even if there was disappointment against Australia in November. The signs ever since have been hugely encouraging, but is this Ireland team ready to win in England?

“I hope so, it’s got a good mixture anyway. It’s got a few of the really experienced guys with Paul [O'Connell], Brian [O'Driscoll], Darce [Gordon D'Arcy], Rory Best; these guys have won the Grand Slam, won in England, won Triple Crowns.

Obviously, the other guys underneath that have been in the middle were on the outskirts of that Grand Slam-winning team. They would have learned a lot from then, but haven’t really achieved success. We’re hoping to take that next step.

“We’ll rely on them and we’ve got the younger guys coming through, who are hungry as well and pushing everyone on. I think there is the right blend there and we do have the right guy in charge to lead us forward. The last three times we’ve played England, they’ve beaten us; that says a lot.”

Sexton claims Ireland have not spoken about the 2015 Rugby World Cup yet, but for Lancaster’s England squad that tournament is very much being concentrated upon even now. As hosts, pressure will be on the English and their head coach is attempting to create a fresh culture and more ambitious game plan.

One man who may be key to Lancaster’s thoughts is Owen Farrell – even if the wonderfully rounded George Ford looks like a true contender for the number 10 shirt in the long-term. The Saracens’ out-half has shown gradual signs of development into a more effective attacking player, something he has attributed to working closely with Sexton on the 2013 Lions tour.

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Sexton was a key creative presence against the Scots in round one. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

However, when asked if he can see any similarities developing between himself and the England out-half, Sexton underlines his opponent’s own talent.

“I think Owen was going to continue to get better no matter what. I think he’s so young, people forget about that. He’s 22 now, it’s scary how good he could be in the future. He was always going to get better. When you’re that young and you get thrown in – it’s the same with Paddy Jackson in Ireland – they get thrown in a lot younger and they’re just going to get better and better.

I don’t know if it was working with me, but he’s going to keep getting better and better with playing more games and seeing more games, working with different coaches. You just learn different things.”

Sexton underlines his belief that the style of rugby England are shifting towards under Lancaster’s direction is allowing Farrell to showcase his greater skillset. Sometimes a player simply needs the ideal prompting to demonstrate abilities which previously appeared non-existent.

“Yeah, they’re playing good rugby through him; a lot of the moves they use go through 10. They play a lot off 10 maybe compared to what we would do. So a lot goes through him, which is good.

“The performances he has produced, especially in Paris, were outstanding and they [England] should have – but for the bounce of two balls, you know, 14 points down early on – really beaten France out the gate.”

Sexton knows exactly how strong an English team awaits Ireland in two weekends’ time but with a first trophy in Ireland colours there for the taking, expect another world class performance from Ireland’s out-half.

Fly Off! Aer Lingus ambassador Johnny Sexton kicked off a special offer of ‘up to 20% off’ fares on selected European routes booked from today to Sunday 16th February for travel from 1st May to 30th June. For more information visit www.aerlingus.com.

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Murray Kinsella

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