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10th Oct 2023

“Without Johnny Sexton, Ireland have got nothing” – All Blacks legend Israel Dagg cuts to the chase

Patrick McCarry

“Watching that game, you would have thought it was played in Dublin.”

Former All Blacks star Israel Dagg and his radio co-hosts, in New Zealand, are plenty wary of Ireland and are loving the passion of our fans, but feel the All Blacks can chase them at the breakdown, set-piece and get after Johnny Sexton.

This Saturday, at Stade de France, Ireland and New Zealand go head-to-head for a place in the World Cup semi finals. Over in New Zealand, for only the fourth time in 359 All Blacks matches, dating back to 1996, the three-time world champions are going into a match as betting underdogs.

As part of their big match build-up on Breakfast SENZ, Dagg and his co-hosts discussed how to get after Ireland, and attempting to nullify the threat of Johnny Sexton.

Johnny Sexton
Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton pictured during the announcement of his side’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Israel Dagg on Johnny Sexton

Having set an Irish World Cup record by lining out for them, against Romania, in the tournament opener as their oldest player, 38-year-old Johnny Sexton adds to that record with each an every appearance in France.

The Ireland captain has started all four games for his country and is set to get the 10 jersey for Saturday’s clash with New Zealand. “If Ireland lose Johnny Sexton, at any stage,” observed Breakfast SENZ host Tony Kemp, “the All Blacks have more of a chance.”

Kemp, who played rugby league for New Zealand, also stated his fears about Ireland’s rush defence causing trouble for the ABs – something Israel Dagg agreed with. The former Crusaders and New Zealand fullback praised the “dominant” Irish pack, and added:

“On the flip side, I’m surprised teams are not implementing that rush defence on Ireland, and bringing a lot of heat. You look at Johnny Sexton and the way they are able to play. When you’re passing the ball to that receiver and you’re able to wrap around, get a ball out the back and you still have a lot of time to make the right decision, that means the [opposition] is left with a lot of indecision.

“How do you fix that? That means getting guys up on their feet and confident of who they’ve got and the positions they’re covering, then coming forward and put the pressure back on Ireland. All the pressure Ireland are putting on teams, they’re not returning the favour. They’re just allowing Ireland to play.”

“They were allowed take off Johnny Sexton early [against Scotland],” Dagg continued, “and I applaud Andy Farrell for that, as you don’t want to run the risk. Because without Johnny Sexton, Ireland have got nothing. Well, they have something but he is their team. He is their important person in that squad.”

Diving into what the All Blacks need to do better, in order to beat Ireland and throw them off their game, Dagg has highlighted the breakdown and getting a high-pressing defensive line as key factors.

He believes Ireland have the edge up front and New Zealand have a stronger backline, so if the AB’s pack can over-perform it may give the backs a platform to do some damage.

“If we can get our front-foot ball and get over the gainline, and we’re able to give our backs and drivers good front-foot ball, then 100% we can upset this Irish team. No-one is predicting it. Everyone is writing off the All Blacks… but this team in black know what they can do. I fully believe that they can beat this Irish team.”

“We’re underdogs. We definitely are. No-one is even talking about this team.”

Dagg wants referee Wayne Barnes to let the game flow. If the ball is in play for long stretches, he believes ‘we will get over the top of them’ and ‘this Irish team will fatigue’.

Going back to Johnny Sexton, the two-time World Cup winner wants New Zealand to get up in the outhalf’s face so they can cut out his merry side-ways jigs as he selects from one, two or three running options.

“He runs cross-field constantly. Teams are allowing him to run cross-field, giving him time with ball-in-hand. I cannot, for the life of me, see the All Blacks [allowing] that… if he is allowed do that, Ireland will run rings around us.”


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