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Sexton: 'We've been reared on knock-out rugby... we should use our experiences'

The Ireland out-half travelled to Tokyo Stadium without his team-mates today.

USUALLY, IRELAND’S ENTIRE 23-man squad plus reserves travel to the match venue on the day before their games to go through a captain’s run but Johnny Sexton took to the pitch at Tokyo Stadium on his own today.

The World Cup quarter-final venue is around an hour and a half’s drive from their team hotel out in Disneyland Tokyo Bay, meaning Joe Schmidt’s squad didn’t jump on the bus for a trek across this vast city.

ireland-captains-run-tokyo-stadium Sexton at Tokyo Stadium today. Source: Adam Davy

Instead, Sexton went solo to get his bearings and fire over a few place-kicks ahead of starting his first World Cup knock-out game for Ireland tomorrow.

Joey Carbery and Conor Murray, the other place-kickers in the 23, opted to kick locally instead of joining Sexton, who was accompanied only by kicking coach Richie Murphy. 

After finding his range, Sexton arrived indoors for a much-delayed press conference and once again impressed those present with his confidence and calm before tomorrow’s meeting with the All Blacks.

“It’s been a long time in the back of our minds, this quarter-final,” said the 34-year-old out-half. “It was always going to be the case that if we did get through our pool, we were going to play South Africa or New Zealand, with respect to the other sides.

“That was the likelihood and we’re here now. It’s a little bit surreal to think it, I can’t believe it’s finally here. This time four years ago, I was a supporter [due to injury] and it’s not a great place to be.

“So we’re really looking forward to getting out there on the big stage and trying to show what we can do against the best team in the world, a team that hasn’t lost a World Cup game in two World Cups.

“It’s going to be an enormous challenge but one we’re excited and eager about. We want to make people at home really proud.”

Sexton’s confidence comes from what he and Ireland have achieved in recent years under Schmidt, including their two wins over the All Blacks.

ireland-captains-run-tokyo-stadium Sexton went through a session on his own in Tokyo. Source: Adam Davy

 

“It’s right up there, right up there,” said Sexton when asked how this Ireland 23 compares to the others he has played in. “That’s where we get our little bit of belief and bit of confidence from, when you look around this circle.

“I’m not talking about the experienced lads, but you look around and see guys like Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale, James Ryan, the guys that are just top-quality people and players, and then you look and see all the experienced guys who have been around the block.

“So that’s what gives us belief and confidence. But in terms of the team, yeah, right up there and our biggest strength is our collective, and we’d pretty much do anything for each other.”

The perception is that Ireland simply won’t handle the knock-out occasion in Tokyo as well as the All Blacks, who have won the last two World Cups and shown their ability to deal with severe pressure.

Ireland haven’t ever won a knock-out game in a World Cup, but Sexton believes the current Irish players’ experiences of knock-out rugby elsewhere can be useful tomorrow.

“Declan Kidney said that to us in 2011, that we had been reared on knock-out rugby. 

“I came up through the schools system, club rugby, knock-out rugby, I played for Mary’s, I played in the All-Ireland League, all those cups that you play at club level, and then the Heineken Cup.

“So we’re sort of reared on it. We play a lot of knock-out rugby, we probably play a little bit more than New Zealand if you think that they go straight into the semis after the conference stages.

jonathan-sexton Sexton at Ireland training in Tokyo yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So it’s something that we’ve been involved in a lot, it doesn’t feel too different to other knock-out games I’ve been involved in and we should use our experiences there to guide us tomorrow.”

Sexton is likely to be the key figure for Ireland if they are to upset the odds against New Zealand, while his partnership with Conor Murray will naturally be important.

They will start together for a record 56th time tomorrow in Tokyo, having come through some early difficulties to become arguably Ireland’s best-ever halfback pairing.

“When we started off you’d never have thought we’d have played this many matches together, we were like two strangers looking at each other in those first few games,” said Sexton. “We’ve gone from strength to strength.

“Conor’s a top-quality operator, he has a quality pass, his kicking game, and basics of what world-class scrum-halves are – he’s up against one tomorrow.

“But, it’s been a pleasure to play alongside him. I hope we get many more together.

“After the World Cup, you guys [the media] will probably turn on us, start calling for our heads and saying we’re too old, saying the next batch have to come through. I can see it already. But I’ve no doubt we’ve got a few years left.”

- Originally published at 09.25

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Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo Stadium

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