Sexton hopes Ireland can take place at 'top table' after falling short of England and France

‘We’re happy with the way we’re improving,’ says the Ireland captain while pointing out a ‘difference of opinion’ with the media.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A CONVINCING WIN over Scotland meant the international year ended a little better than it started for Ireland.

Match one was a seven-point success over Gregor Townsend’s side – a result memorable for a crucial drop by Stuart Hogg that might have accounted for the deficit.

Match nine was a resounding 31-16 win over the same opposition, a margin of victory that will wash away memories of how much trouble the visitors gave Andy Farrell’s men at 0-6 and 3-9 during a hard-fought first half.

Jonathan Sexton gave the RTE cameras a sardonic smile when the bumps on the road to today’s win were pointed out to him pitchside. Criticism directed the way of Farrell’s Ireland in recent weeks has clearly stung. In front of the live cameras and again in the post-match press conference, the captain took the opportunity to point out a ‘difference of opinion’ between the team’s internal view of itself and the view of the media.

“I know you guys aren’t aligned with us,” said Sexton, who reported the injury he suffered today as a dead leg.

“It’s Test match rugby, you’re never going to go out there against a team as good as Scotland and dominate for 80 minutes, but we stuck in there.”

The win means Ireland have won six of their nine matches this year, losing three between away trips to England and France. Those sides set the standard in Europe at present, but they will come to Dublin during next year’s Six Nations and Ireland will be intent on proving a point.

As a team, we’re not at the top table yet. We haven’t been able to beat France or England. That’s what the top teams are able to do.

“We’re just below that at the moment, but I’m confident this team and coaching staff can go to that level and we can get there. Hopefully in February, we’ll get there.

“Today was a good end to the year. We need to keep evolving, keep improving. I think we have.”

It’s suggested to Sexton that the media judge the current Ireland side by heights reached in 2018. Perhaps a more forgiving lens ought to be trained on them?

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“We judge ourselves by the highest of standards. We wish we’d beaten England away, wish we’d beat France away. We learned some valuable lessons, some harsh lessons in big games away from home.

“We wish we were in there with a Six Nations trophy under our belt. We felt it was there for the taking.

“We’ll live with that forever, there’s no one that hurts more than us. But it’s about what we take away from it and there’s young guys who played that day who’ll take a lot away from it.

“We’re happy with the way we’re improving. I admitted we haven’t shown it in a full 80 min performance, probably didn’t show a full 80 tonight. but it’s Test match rugby, it’s not easy to turn up and have it all your own way.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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