Sexton celebrates Ireland's greatest win. Billy Stickland/INPHO
the goat

Was this Irish rugby’s greatest result? 'It doesn't get much better than this,' says Sexton

Irish captain Johnny Sexton says the team’s desire is to get better yet again.

ONE BY ONE the bar keeps getting raised. There was O’Driscoll’s hat-trick in Paris, the conquering of world champion Australian and English sides in the noughties, the grand slams of 2009 and 2018 and of course Chicago.

But since then, Irish rugby has kept breaking new ground. A first win over New Zealand on Irish soil was achieved in 2018, a first series win in Australia chalked off the to-do list that same summer.

But this, this tops the lot. To beat the All Blacks in a test series in New Zealand is something only four teams have ever done before. Ireland today made that five. “Am… It doesn’t get much better than this,” said captain, Johnny Sexton afterwards. “By saying that, it’s the biggest respect we can give New Zealand.

“The celebrations probably weren’t the most humble but that shows how much it means to us. To come down here, we came here with the Lions and we thought it was great to get a draw.

“The guys that felt we should have won were criticised, so to come down here and do it, is just very, very special. It’s a special group, led by Faz (Andy Farrell, the head coach) of course. It’s great to be a part of.”

Asked where it ranked in terms of his career achievements – and bear in mind he was voted world player of the year in 2018 – Sexton replied: “It is right up there. Like, every time you play for Ireland is incredibly special and to do something that no (Ireland) team has ever done before is brilliant.

“These Test series are incredible and that’s proven by today’s game; it would be a shame to get rid of them.”

bundee-aki-celebrates-at-the-end-of-the-game Bundee Aki celebrates at the final whistle. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Thoughts already turn to next year’s World Cup. While today’s achievement was incredible, it remains an embarrassment that the team has never won a World Cup quarter-final.

Sexton however pointed out the season that lies ahead, another shot at winning the Six Nations, a November series. “It shouldn’t be ‘Best New Zealand and let’s wait for the World Cup.’

“There is plenty more to play. We still haven’t achieved things that we want to.
“We got a Triple Crown this year but a Championship or better would be something we are aiming for.

“So, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be trying to progress and do that. It’s very Irish to think ‘Oh we have to take it easy now until the World Cup.’

“But no, let’s keep making the most of it. Let’s keep getting better. That has to be driven by, of course, me as captain and the rest of the leadership group to turn up and show the right attitude in September.”

They certainly showed the right attitude tonight.

At one stage, the All Blacks looked on course to stage a sensational comeback. Ireland resisted.

But Sexton admits doubt crept into his thoughts when Will Jordan scored New Zealand’s third try to reduce the gap to three points. Worse again, that moment came shortly after Sexton’s second half penalty struck the crossbar from half-way. Ordinarily an eight-point swing like that changes games. This time it didn’t.

“You have to have the mental skills to be able to get back into the present and the moment.

“For the ball to come off the crossbar like that. It was mad, I was actually thinking about Owen’s (Farrell) against the All Blacks to tie the series from a similar spot.

“I just felt it was an important kick, then for it to come off the crossbar, I was gutted. It was a big swing but it just shows the character of the team to be able to come back from that.

“They are the moments in previous years that would have swung the game. They are the fine margins that we would have been talking about if we’d lost.

“But thankfully we got a penalty straight away and then it was a big call to go for the corner again. The lads backed it up.

“That was Cheese, James Ryan, he was on it tonight. A couple of times we talked about going for three and he just said ‘No, go for the corner.’ For him to show that leadership is a big step for him.”

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