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Sexton bemused by criticism of Ireland as Schmidt's side gear up for All Blacks
The 34-year-old out-half says the Kiwis are accustomed to dealing with the pressure of being favourites.

JOHNNY SEXTON IS a self-confessed sports nerd so he was never going to miss the documentary about the All Blacks that screened on Amazon Prime last year.

Entitled ‘All or Nothing,’ the doc goes behind the scenes with Steve Hansen’s squad during the 2017 Lions tour and Rugby Championship. While it doesn’t give away too much, it’s worth a watch and the show underlined to Sexton again how much pressure the Kiwis face on a regular basis.

“I watched it,” said Sexton this morning in Fukuoka, “and they’re beating teams by 40 points and still getting slated at home.

“So that pressure is always with them, every time they pull on the jersey. They are used to dealing with that, they are used to that pressure.”

irelands-jonathan-sexton Billy Stickland / INPHO Sexton and Ireland have beaten the All Blacks twice. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland are firmly the underdogs heading into Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand in Tokyo, with the early markets having the Kiwis as 12-point favourites to advance into the semi-finals.

That brings with it the pressure of expectation of for Hansen’s players but, as Sexton pointed out, they’re accustomed to it and the fact that New Zealand are targetting their third World Cup trophy in a row underlines that they’ve become good at dealing with it.

Still, Sexton and Ireland have their own quiet belief coming into this tie, as they look to make history by finally progressing beyond the quarter-finals.

“It’s an incredibly tough game but one we’re looking forward to,” said Sexton. “I suppose we can take some confidence off the last few times we’ve played them.

“We know they’re the best team in the world and we’ve got to play our best to get there but we can take a little bit of confidence from the fact that we have got that monkey off our back and we’ve done it a couple of times, which gives us that belief.”

The out-half is referring to Ireland’s wins over the Kiwis in 2016 and 2018, of course, although he stresses that this weekend’s game is an entirely new challenge. Anything can happen in a quarter-final.

While perceptions on the outside of this Ireland squad have been of poor performances against Japan and Russia being book-ended by strong displays against Scotland and Samoa, Sexton has been a little confused by the criticism of Joe Schmidt’s side.

“Obviously, we’ve been building pretty well, apart from that poor 60 minutes against Japan everything else has pretty much gone to plan,” said the 34-year-old.

“There’s been some negativity around us and we’d feel that’s been pretty strange.

jonathan-sexton-scores-their-fourth-try Jayne Russell / INPHO Sexton scored two tries against Samoa. Jayne Russell / INPHO / INPHO

“But we’re really confident in how we’re building. We’d like to be playing a bit better in some regards at times but, hopefully, we can put that performance out there on Saturday.”

Sexton insisted Ireland are “very self-critical” of their own performances and said the more negative reviews of their World Cup campaign haven’t been a talking point within the squad, though that kind of stuff always gets fed back to them.

“It’s just something that we get a sense of. You get texts saying, ‘Keep the head up, we’re still behind you’ and you get a feeling that there are some things out there that aren’t great. Our media manager gives us the lowdown before we come in here what to expect.

“We know things weren’t great but it’s funny some people trying to compare things to ’07 when they just scraped past Namibia and we have just beaten Russia 35-0. How there can be comparisons there, I’m not quite sure, and in totally different conditions.

“Look, we’re exactly where we want to be in terms of a quarter-final and now we’re going to do everything we can for this week to put our best selves out there and hopefully that can get us the right result.

“We know we can play to our potential and still not get it, so we’ve got to make sure we do our part and really go for it.”

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