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Sexton feeling greater responsibility and gratitude as ireland prepare to play through Level 5

The exemption granted to elite sport has the Ireland skipper feeling privileged.

Sexton at training in the Sports Campus today.
Sexton at training in the Sports Campus today.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IRELAND CAPTAIN JOHNNY Sexton admits he and his team-mates are conscious of the need to represent a nation reeling from a return to Level 5 restrictions.

The out-half was speaking at a virtual press conference today at Ireland’s training base in Abbottstown ahead of Saturday’s rescheduled Six Nations meeting against Italy at the Aviva Stadium.

Strictly speaking, Level 5 restrictions as first drawn up would not allow for sport to continue and would have brought a return to the hiatus experienced through the summer. However, elite sport was granted an exemption from this round of government restrictions and Sexton found himself repeatedly uttering words like ‘grateful’ and ‘lucky’ as he looked ahead to his return to the Test arena in the weeks ahead.

With lives, health and livelihoods put under threat by rising Covid-19 numbers, continuing sport will serve as something of a distraction this time around. Sexton was asked if he felt the need to ‘put on a show’ against Italy and tilted the outlook only slightly in response.

“Not so much ‘putting on a show’, but you feel a bigger responsibility with the restrictions that have come in and the country going back to Level 5,” says the 35-year-old skipper.

“Any time you play for Ireland it’s a big responsibility, but yeah, there’s a little bit of an extra onus on us this week.

“We need to win the game first and foremost, that’s most important because (the Championship) could come down to points difference and bonus points. That will come later in the game, but we need to try and win the game first.

Putting on a show isn’t something we’ve talked about, but putting on a good performance is something we’re conscious of and want to do.”

Yet for all the responsibility, Sexton is also acutely aware that carrying a nation’s mood on the shoulders would likely be detrimental to performances.

“That’s the balance that we have to find. We don’t want it to be a burden.  You guys are asking about the duty we feel, but we don’t want that to weigh us down.

“We want to use it as an opportunity, we’re privileged to go and do our thing in front of the country.

andy-farrell Andy Farrell gets a message in as Stuart McCloskey trains with Ireland today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“That’s why you start playing the game as a kid… so we can’t let that be a massive pressure on us.

“The coaches have been brilliant in getting the balance between having fun and serious and getting down to rugby and hard work.

“The balance has been brilliant since Andy (Farrell) has taken over.”

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