Farrell hails Sexton's enduring influence after Ireland captain's return in Rome

‘His performance was excellent but it’s more than that.’

Sexton was back at 10 for Ireland in Rome.
Sexton was back at 10 for Ireland in Rome.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Updated Mar 1st 2021, 8:03 AM

IRELAND BOSS ANDY Farrell hailed the enduring influence of Johnny Sexton after the 35-year-old returned to captain his team to a bonus-point victory against Italy.

Sexton had missed Ireland’s defeat to France after suffering a head injury in their Six Nations opener against Wales, but he was fit to play all 80 minutes of the six-try win in Rome.

The Leinster out-half’s future has once again been a major talking point in recent weeks but with IRFU set to confirm a new one-year central contract extension for Sexton in the near future, Farrell praised his influence on this Ireland squad.

“His performance was excellent but it’s more than that,” said Farrell on Saturday after Ireland’s 48-10 win at Stadio Olimpico.

“The lessons that can be learned from Johnny, from the experience – how you make people feel, how you approach a week, how you attack a weekend, the game itself, when there’s a little bit of pressure that’s on you as well and how you make people feel and how you make the group feel confident.

“It’s everyone’s job to step up to the plate but Johnny has been world-class at that for most of his life and most of his career and that’s why he is where he’s at. He’s led outstandingly well and he’s made the group feel really good about themselves this week.

“He has also influenced others to step up to that plate and they’re growing. The leadership is growing but the individuals within the group are learning that lesson as well.”

Sexton will hope to lead Ireland to further successes in the coming weeks, with a trip to Edinburgh next on the agenda in two weekends’ time before a home clash with Eddie Jones’ England.

Farrell was pleased with his side’s return to winning ways in Rome, sensing that this victory could inject some momentum and confidence into his group.

“What I was really pleased with was that we were connected in our attack,” said Farrell.

andy-farrell Farrell was pleased with much of Ireland's display. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We were all pushing together, we had proper good intent from our forwards, punching well, and our backs were nice and connected with that. When that tends to happen, you tend to get momentum and you tend to get the offloads on the back of that.”    

“That was pleasing in parts, certainly in a couple of tries in the first half. Could it be better? Of course it can and it’s something that we’ll improve on in the next couple of weeks hopefully.”

The Ireland boss was also pleased to see several players taking their chances after he made seven changes to his starting XV and handed Craig Casey and Ryan Baird their debuts off the bench.

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The likes of Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher, and Will Connors all had strong involvements for Ireland and will hope to be given the nod again for Murrayfield.

“It’s a hard balance isn’t it?” said Farrell. “There are guys that need game time and sometimes you can go through a competition where if guys don’t get the game time and other guys fall over towards the end of the competition, then people are going to be underdone.

“So I thought that worked pretty well today, and then there are guys that are coming back into the equation like Jack Conan. I thought he was very effective coming into the game.

“Ronan had his chance, I thought he was good. James Ryan hasn’t played for a few weeks, Johnny hasn’t played for a few weeks. So the lads that came back really stepped up and we always say competition for places is vital for any team to keep growing.

“There’s a couple of lads that have got a chance to play this weekend at their provinces, some interprovincial games next weekend as well and we’ve yet to decide who will go back but we’ll decide that sooner rather than later.”

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