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Sexton: 'It's like a different type of game when you're on the bench'

The out-half found himself in an unfamiliar position last week, but is set to take centre stage again in Melbourne.

IT’S NOT OFTEN Johnny Sexton finds himself on the bench — in fact, you have to go back to the 2011 World Cup for the last time he sat on it for Ireland — but the out-half is now ready to take centre stage again for Saturday’s second Test against Australia.

Johnny Sexton Sexton at Ireland's team hotel in Melbourne earlier. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton was hailed by Joe Schmidt for the manner in which he adapted to his role behind Joey Carbery in Brisbane last week, with the 32-year-old acknowledging the importance of his young pretender being exposed to the cauldron of Test match rugby.

But of his 74 international caps, only nine times has Sexton watched on from the bench at the start of the game and, speaking from the team’s base in Melbourne today, he admitted it was a strange experience.

“It’s not something I’ve done in a long, long time with Ireland, so it needed a bit of getting used to — running the Australia plays all last week and then it’s almost like a different type of game when you’re on the bench,” Sexton said.

“You’ve got a lot of nervous energy and you’re trying to figure out what moves we’ve played so you can play something different when you come on, so you’re sort of sitting there scratching moves off.

“It’s not something I’ve been used to with Ireland, I’ve done it a couple of times with Leinster but that’s why you want to start. It’s all about starting for everyone, you want to get that starting place.”

Sexton replaced Carbery on 57 minutes at Suncorp Stadium, but was unable to prevent Ireland slipping to their first defeat in 13 Test matches as the Wallabies, through tries by Bernard Foley and David Pocock, edged a thrilling contest.

While admitting the margins were ‘skinny’, Schmidt would have disappointed by the fact Ireland lost the game in the final quarter, having led 9-8 when Sexton and the rest of the cavalry were introduced, and the way in which his side leaked two tries.

But it’s often said defeat can be more instructive and certainly the hope is that Ireland can channel the frustrations from Brisbane into producing a much improved performance to keep the series alive this weekend.

“There’s lots of frustrations,” Sexton continued.

Johnny Sexton Sexton could captain Ireland in Melbourne this weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“There were frustrations for us for the whole game. Obviously, you guys will look at the last 20 minutes and say ‘Ireland lost the last 20,’ so you blame that, but that’s not how it works in our environment.

“We look at all the moments throughout the game and there was times when the subs came on that we created good opportunities and we didn’t quite take them. There’s other times where we lost a moment here or there that we would obviously be expected from the management team to do better.

“As a whole, we were disappointed with our level of performance throughout the 80.”

It places real onus on Melbourne this weekend, with Ireland now facing into a must-win game in order to bring the series to Sydney on 23 June, although that’s a challenge Sexton — who could captain the team on Saturday — will relish.

The Leinster 10 added: “It’s a good chance, you learn a lot when you lose. We try and learn through winning and something we did quite well during the Six Nations was that we improved even when we were winning, which is the sign of a good team, and now we’ve got to bounce back, show a reaction, and performance a hell of a lot better than we did last week.”

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