Sexton: ‘Our biggest challenge is up ahead’

Despite being on course to win another grand slam, Johnny Sexton is preaching caution ahead of the trip to Twickenham.

Keeping his eye on the ball.
Keeping his eye on the ball.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

JOHNNY SEXTON BELIEVES Ireland have turned a corner. Two wins on the trot have changed the dynamic surrounding this team. All of a sudden, with each win, each passing week, there are fewer and fewer mentions of 2018.

Yet it hasn’t completely gone out of people’s heads. Sexton, straight up, was asked about the last 12 months at today’s post-match press conference, specifically if this was his most enjoyable day in an Ireland shirt for some time.

“Yes, but it wouldn’t be hard after last year, would it?” the Ireland captain said. “It was brilliant to get that win today. The performance had a bit of everything.

“It had some of the stuff that we didn’t get to show against Scotland. We know that when we get the ball into our back threes hands that something can happen. They showed that today. They stuck to the tactics. In terms of when we got on the edge, the temptation is to run but they got us field position at times brilliantly. Some of our shape stuff was great, stuff we have been working on.

“And we won, that is the most important thing for us. We are building momentum now but obviously our biggest challenge is up ahead and it comes in a couple of weeks-time.”

andrew-conway-scores-a-try-despite-johnny-mcnicholl Conway scores Ireland's fourth try. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Lying ahead are England, the same English side who reached a World Cup final and who bullied Ireland on the two occasions they met last year. “For sure, England gave us a right old spanking the last time we went to Twickenham,” Sexton said. “So we need to up our game. Twickenham is a tough place to go and we haven’t had too many victories there over the years.”

And yet there is a danger in looking too far ahead. Today’s win was significant, not just because it was Ireland’s best victory in 15 months but also because a Welsh scalp is a significant prize to get.

“Look, Wales are World Cup semi-finalists and Grand Slam champions for a reason,” Sexton said. “They’re a top quality team and hard to play against.

“We’re trying to look forward, to be honest. We’re trying to draw a line under last year, trying to develop something new and do things slightly differently.”

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Talk of doing things differently needed a little clarification from Sexton. So often, across the last two weeks, there has been an underlying suggestion that everyone is happier now that Joe Schmidt is no longer around. Sexton sought to correct that notion and remind everyone that the Schmidt era was the most successful one in Irish rugby history.

“I think some of the messages that have come out of our camp haven’t been taken the way they should have been,” he said. “We’ve taken a lot of what Joe’s done over the last few years and added bits to it. So to suggest that we’ve just sort of thrown away everything is incorrect. 

“We’ve got a good balance (between the old Schmidt era and the new Farrell one). We’ve really improved in some areas and we’ve changed the way we do things, which we have to do. You have to develop and adapt but some of the messages that have gone out haven’t been entirely accurate really.”

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Garry Doyle

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