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Dublin: 5°C Monday 17 May 2021

Sexton spots 'good omens' for Ireland as captain closes in on 100 caps

The 35-year-old believes Ireland are in good condition to make a dent in 2021.

Sexton during yesterday's Six Nations launch.
Sexton during yesterday's Six Nations launch.
Image: Irish Rugby Football Union/INPHO

A LONG MORNING and afternoon of online calls for the Six Nations launch started in ominous fashion yesterday when Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton popped up on our screens at 9.30am but no one could hear them.

There was a frantic attempt to resolve the technical issues but nothing worked and the Ireland press conference, rather fittingly in these times, had to be postponed.

Jokes about bad omens for Ireland’s championship abounded but when we finally got to speak to Sexton at the very end of the launch over four hours later, he was instead talking about good omens.

The 35-year-old captain, who hopes overcome a hamstring injury and be available for the opener against Wales in Cardiff on 7 February, has been part of some outstanding Ireland teams that have won trophies in the past.

As he gets set for another Six Nations with Ireland, Sexton reflects that Farrell’s current crop are in a rather similar position to the Ireland teams he has previously been successful with.

“Whether it was the team that did back-to-back championships [in 2014 and 2015] or the Grand Slam [in 2018], and we’ve often had good years and not come away with any silverware, but that has often come off the back of a disappointing campaign beforehand where we’ve learned a lot of lessons and come back in as a similar kind of group with a few new faces and put the wrongs right.

“There’s a sense of that I think. We didn’t get what we wanted out of last year. We were close in terms of it coming down to the last game of the campaign against France and we just came up short. So I think hopefully that’s a good omen.

“I think adding to the coaching staff as Andy has with Paul [O'Connell] coming in is brilliant and hopefully that will give us another source of boost.

“When Joe [Schmidt] was coaching he brought in Andy Farrell as an assistant and it gave him another sort of kick on and it refreshed the group massively. So a few similarities there.”

If Sexton plays all five of Ireland’s Six Nations games this year, he will become the latest member of the ’100 Club’ in the final-day clash with England in Dublin on 20 March.

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johnny-sexton-on-the-pitch-ahead-of-the-game Sexton before Leinster's clash with Munster last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton already has more than 100 Test caps if you include his Lions tours, but he is close to joining an exclusive group of Irish players in Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell, John Hayes, and Cian Healy.

“It would be a pretty special milestone to get to,” said Sexton. “For me, when you get your debut at 23, you never imagine 100 caps will be possible. It still might not be, you still need to stay fit, play well, and get picked to get there.

“It would be a special group to get into. You look at the players in there and they’re all special players in their own right. Of course I’d love to get there. Whether it happens or not is another thing. It’s another little bit of motivation but that’s very much down the line.

“All my focus at the moment is first getting over this small little niggle I picked up and then second of all, performing well in training to get picked for the Wales game.”

Sexton said he still isn’t sure how long he will play on for – he is currently in negotiations with the IRFU to extend his contract beyond this summer – but he’s sure he won’t still be playing at the age of 43 like Tom Brady.

“That’s too much!” said Sexton with a laugh. “You’ve got to take it campaign-by-campaign or year-by-year when you get to this age.”

“At the moment, I feel good despite picking up a niggle, as sometimes is the case before you go into Irish camp, but it is what it is and hopefully I’ll be back flying next week.

“As I said, take it campaign-by-campaign and see how you feel at the end of the season. But it is inspiring to see someone like that have success for so long.”   

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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