Sexton at Ireland training in Portugal. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
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Sexton good to go for Ireland after training without face mask for first time

The 37-year-old skipper isn’t buying Warren Gatland’s words about Wales having a free hit.

JOHNNY SEXTON WILL captain Ireland against Wales in the Six Nations on Saturday after coming through the final stages of his recovery from a facial injury without any hiccups.

The 37-year-old trained without a protective face mask for the first time today at Ireland’s camp in Portugal and was happy to report no ill effects. 

It means Sexton will be the Ireland skipper for the start of his 14th Six Nations campaign, lining up in the number 10 shirt for what will be his first appearance of any kind since New Year’s Day, when he suffered the injury against Connacht.

“I got through a couple of tough sessions in the last few days, so all good,” said Sexton this afternoon at The Campus, where Ireland have now visited several times, including before a heavy defeat to England in Twickenham before the 2019 World Cup.

“It’s been good to have time together. A few years ago we came here before we played England at home and we had a bit of PTSD but the few times we’ve been back, we’ve managed to get better results so we enjoy coming here.

“We get to spend time together. On your day off you sit down together and there’s no option to go home. You sit down and watch video together.

“It’s been good in the last 10, 11 days to be together, then we get a bit of time off after the Wales game. It’s a good balance.”

Andy Farrell will hope his side’s preparation in Portugal leaves them finely tuned for this weekend’s opener against the Welsh in Cardiff.

Ireland have lost three of their last four games at the Principality Stadium, which will be rocking with a sold-out crowd this weekend.

“In 2019, they were going for the Grand Slam and we were going for the championship,” said Sexton.

jonathan-sexton Sexton hasn't played since New Year's Day. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I remember that day, it was terrible weather-wise. They got an early score and we had to chase the game on a horrible day. It was one of the worst days we’ve had in green for a lot of us.

“Then the last time, with Pete [O'Mahony] getting the red card, that made things difficult but we could have snuck away with a win. It’s amazing to look back at all of these games and remember them so vividly, they’re all so special.

“But it’s a tough place to go. Ask any nation, England, Scotland, no one has that good a record. Even when we won there in 2013, we went on to finish last in the tournament [Ireland finished just ahead of France on points difference]. It doesn’t guarantee you anything to get the win.”

Wales boss Warren Gatland has readily embraced the underdog tag for his side and underlined how Ireland are the number-one-ranked team in the sport. With Ireland 10-point favourites in some quarters, Gatland has labelled this weekend as a “free hit” for his team, but Sexton disagrees.

“Maybe that’s what he’s saying but he certainly hasn’t picked a team that would suggest it’s a free hit because he has picked such an experienced team,” said Sexton.

“He has brought back some older guys that would suggest he’s targeting this game. If he was looking at a free hit, he’d pick all the young lads, give it a lash and see if they can get through to the World Cup.

“We’re definitely not preparing like that. We’re preparing for a full-on Test match in the Principality Stadium which is an incredibly tough place to go and win. That’s all we’ve been talking about and preparing for.”

Get instant updates on your province on The42 app. With Laya Healthcare, official health and wellbeing partner to Leinster, Munster and Connacht Rugby.

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