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Sexton: 'You've got to take these opportunities with both hands when they come'

The experienced out-half recalls O’Gara, O’Connell and O’Driscoll leading Ireland for their 2009 success.

WE HARDLY EXPECTED Johnny Sexton to burst into the room singing and dancing, swigging out of a can, but as the Ireland out-half took a seat at the head of the press conference room at the Aviva Stadium, one could have been forgiven for double-checking that his team had, indeed, just been crowned Six Nations champions.

With Joe Schmidt alongside him, Sexton was calm and collected – very much in control of his emotions.

Johnny Sexton celebrates as Conor Murray scores a try Sexton is desperate to finish the job next weekend. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

This is his third Six Nations title as Ireland’s first-choice out-half, of course, so he has experienced it all before but with a Grand Slam still on the line next weekend the 32-year-old feels the job is not yet done.

“It’s very muted upstairs, it’s a very strange feeling to win the championship with a game to go and so much still to play for,” says Sexton.

There is pride at Ireland’s achievement, with the out-half noting how many players are missing through injury and crediting Schmidt and his coaching staff for adapting to those losses of personnel.

Yet the yearning in Sexton for more is very clear.

He was part of Ireland’s wider Six Nations squad back in 2009, when Declan Kidney’s men secured the nation’s second-ever Grand Slam, but Sexton played no part on the pitch.

It’s something he has always desired and he can take important lessons from being in that 2009 group – namely in how experienced players need to help the younger squad members to understand the chance they now have in Twickenham next weekend.

“As Declan Kidney said, I was just as much a part of it as everyone else back in 2009 when I was in the bibs,” says Sexton. “I definitely didn’t feel that way but I remember some of the talks that were made around those times.

“The O’Connells, O’Driscolls, O’Garas, who were trying to achieve this for 10 years and you could tell by their speeches and actions throughout that season how much it meant to them. They had to drag along guys like Luke Fitzgerald and Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, these young guys coming through.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates winning with his son Luca Sexton with his son, Luca, after the win over Scotland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s very similar to that now and I know Rory is desperate for a Grand Slam because he feels that he would be a bigger part of it now than he played back then. For us, it’s about trying to drag those young lads along. They probably think they’re going to get loads of opportunities but, as I know, it doesn’t work out like that.

“I remember playing Scotland in Croke Park for a Triple Crown and almost taking it for granted because I thought, ‘Triple Crown, I’ll have plenty more opportunities like this,’ I still haven’t won a Triple Crown, so you’ve got to take these opportunities with both hands when they come.”

Sexton’s drop goal in Ireland’s opening game of this championship deserves to be a Grand Slam moment, even if it came at the beginning of Ireland’s tilt at history.

Over five minutes and 41 phases, he played a major role even before his stunning 45-metre kick. It’s certainly one for the highlights reel in the future, but Sexton wants another few like it next weekend.

“We said after that it was a very special moment for the team. We will look back at that next week when we lift the trophy, hopefully a Grand Slam.

“We will look back on those five minutes and say it was a huge moment in our success. We know how difficult it is going to be with England.

“The shoe is on the other foot after last year and I’m sure they’ll be licking their lips.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

Indeed, Ireland denied Eddie Jones’ men a Grand Slam last year with victory in Dublin, leaving Dylan Hartley to lift the Six Nations trophy in rather anti-climactic fashion afterwards.

England have lost two games in a row for the first time under Jones but Sexton says their motivation would never be in doubt, whatever their recent record.

“I’m sure, same as us, every time you pull on your international jersey at home in front of the Irish people your family, your friends, you don’t need any more motivation. That’s all the motivation you need.

“That was our motivation last year, we definitely didn’t want to lose at home and we definitely didn’t want to lose in front of those people. I’m sure it will be exactly the same for England. I know a lot of them personally from Lions trips and they’re a very, very proud bunch of people.

“They’ll be gunning for us.”

‘History doesn’t protect you from the future’: Ireland primed for Grand Slam tilt

England’s title defence falls short as Jones’ men slump to defeat in Paris

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Murray Kinsella

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