Sexton: 'Have we gone backwards? Not compared to 2019'

The Ireland captain insists the current Ireland side has made progress that they have just been unable to reproduce in competitive action.

Sexton chats with Hugo Keenan during the win over Georgia.
Sexton chats with Hugo Keenan during the win over Georgia.
Image: Craig Mercer/INPHO

LIKE THE RUMBLING of welcome cavalry, Jonathan Sexton was declared fit and returned to the captain’s seat today as Ireland head into the year’s final international.

After missing out on most of the November Tests, he is chomping at the bit to taste a December one and guide Andy Farrell’s side to a positive bookend of a troubled campaign.

In Sexton’s absence, Ireland managed to see off Wales and force a win over Georgia either side of another loss to England. All told, Farrell’s side have won five of their eight matches and the skipper is happy to point to such headline figures as he targets a sixth from nine.

“Plenty of Irish teams over the years have lost in Twickenham and Paris,” Sexton hit back when asked if Ireland had regressed since the World Cup.

“England were in a World Cup final, they’re one of the better teams in the world at the minute and we need to get up to that level. Have we gone backwards? Not when you compare it to 2019.

If you go and compare it to 2018, then obviously. We went backwards in 2019, the same team went backwards.”

Rather than going backwards, Sexton feels there has been tangible progress made in certain areas under the new head coach. Albeit progress that has yet to manifest itself clearly on the field.

“I know you guys don’t agree. We feel we’re progressing and we need to show it.

“That’s where the gap in opinion is: we’re making some great learnings, great work in training, some bits in games… we need to put out the 80-ominute performance with the finishing touches.

“We feel – and we can show some video clips if you want – that we’re creating loads of chances and just not finishing.”

Sexton is back fit after coming through a hamstring issue that flared up on goal-kicking duty. The 35-year-old laments that he has felt the issue twice in the space of six weeks, but after returning to kicking practice last week he is confident he will be in good condition to take on Scotland on Saturday.

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A much-changed Ireland side on Sunday failed to reintroduce much cause for positivity eight days on from defeat in London. So the task on Saturday for another much-changed XV to answer criticism that is compounding week on week.

Sexton bemoaned the lack of a third first-half try against the Tier 2 side that might have given Ireland a platform to build a more convincing win, but he rules his own point as moot.

“Second half wasn’t good enough. So we can forget about a bit of  misfortune in the first half. Second half wasn’t good enough, it’s not our standard and we’re not getting away from that.

“We hope to right that wrong this week.

“We need to try and put it all together on Saturday. We’ve shown bits and pieces, we need to get it all together on Saturday.”

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