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Ireland beat Wales 32-9 last night in Dublin.
Ireland beat Wales 32-9 last night in Dublin.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ireland have 'a few more steps to go to become a champion side' - Sexton

The captain hopes to be fit for the trip to Twickenham to take on England next weekend.
Nov 14th 2020, 7:00 AM 25,131 16

A WIN AGAINST Wales on a 23-point margin is never something for Ireland to take for granted but Andy Farrell and his players will likely be left with a sense of frustration when they dig through yesterday’s Autumn Nations Cup opener.

There was plenty to like, of course, with the head coach pleased with his players’ “dominant” level of physicality in outmuscling a Welsh team that was truly desperate to win. The scrum gave Ireland some real momentum.

Their defence didn’t leak any tries, albeit they only had to make 88 tackles as they enjoyed a bigger share of the possession and territory. Ireland’s lineout defence was particularly outstanding as Peter O’Mahony and James Ryan made their presence felt.

Farrell had laid down the challenge for players to impress after he made seven changes to his starting XV and there was a response as the likes of O’Mahony, Chris Farrell and Quinn Roux – who started when Iain Henderson was ruled out – took their chances.

Jamison Gibson-Park had several impressive moments on his first Test start, while James Lowe began life as an Ireland player with a very promising performance on the left wing that was capped by a try in the last minute. 

Ireland had some excellent passages of attack as their set-piece plays caused Wales real problems, but very often the positive build-up work ended with Farrell’s side missing an opportunity.

That’s where the chief frustration will lie when they look back at the game, noting how they really should have been out of sight of Wales at half time rather than only 16-6 ahead.

Ireland’s poor start to the second half was similar to their damaging performance in the same period against France two weekends ago in the Six Nations, and that’s likely to be another area they examine in the coming days.

Johnny Sexton and his team-mates will be acutely aware that they need to find another few gears for next weekend’s visit to Twickenham, where they have had bad days against Eddie Jones’ England on their two most recent visits.

johnny-sexton-goes-off-injured Sexton is hopeful of being fit to face the English. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

So while Ireland were justifiably pleased to get back to winning ways last night in Dublin, having stewed over their Six Nations defeat in Paris, they won’t be deluding themselves about where they are and what they need to deliver against the English.

“It was a very disappointed camp for the first week [after the France game],” said Ireland captain Sexton last night after the win over Wales.

“We have had to pick ourselves back up from the disappointment of one that we felt got away and one we wish we could go back and play again, but you don’t get second chances in professional sport.

‘I thought we were much better tonight in certain areas but I still think we need to take a step up in terms of accuracy and being clinical. We had a few chances and if Wales had scored straight after half time, it’s an even game, whereas the dominance we had in the first half wasn’t really reflected on the scoreboard.

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“There are lots of small things to pick up on but there was much better intent all round and much better attitude in the way we prepared and everything like that. We thought we prepared well for France but, in hindsight, a few guys felt we weren’t right on it.

“You live and learn and thankfully we bounced back well enough. We’ve got a few more steps to go to become a champion side.”

Of course, Sexton himself only lasted 28 minutes of Ireland’s win against Wayne Pivac’s struggling Welsh side, with the out-half forced off at that point due to a hamstring strain he suffered while kicking three points for his team.

It’s obvious that Ireland need Sexton for the visit to Twickenham and he insists he is still hopeful of featuring.

“It doesn’t feel too serious, it’s just very frustrating,” said Sexton post-match. “I initially thought I was going to be able to run it off but unfortunately not.

‘We’ll see tomorrow, I’ll probably get a scan to see if there’s any damage to it or not, but still hopeful for next week.”

will-connors-offloads-the-ball-despite-elliot-dee Ireland had too much for the Welsh. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Sexton wants to be part of Ireland’s trip to take on the Six Nations champions as they look to learn if they’ve made progress since their last visit earlier this year.

“We got found out a little bit in Twickenham,” said Sexton of the 24-12 defeat back in February.

“England are one of the top sides in the world, top two or three at least. You look at their squad, their third-choice centre is as good as their first. They have got a massive squad and every player is as good as the next.

“So, it’s a massive challenge for us but it’s a great fixture for us to see how far we have come in eight months. It feels like three years.

“It’s a great test for us to go over and see if we can improve on our last performance over there.”

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Murray Kinsella

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