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11th Oct 2023

Johnny Sexton handles fairly pointed All Blacks question extremely well

Patrick McCarry

Johnny Sexton

Joe Schmidt, legacy and pay-back for past World Cup heartaches – Johnny Sexton will have been expecting these ones.

Ireland have named their match-day 23 for Saturday’s World Cup quarter final with New Zealand, and Johnny Sexton will break his own record [again] of being his country’s oldest player at the tournament.

Having surpassed Rory Best’s 2019 bench-mark in Ireland’s opening game of the World Cup, against Romania, 38-year-old Sexton sets a new record with each game he plays in France. In Wednesday’s press briefing, Sexton was asked about coming up against old Leinster and Ireland coach, Joe Schmidt.

“I see evidence of Joe’s coaching through the team,” he said. “Joe’s done a great job over the last 12 months, they’ve made big strides. Joe knows us well, we know him well, but Joe doesn’t get to make any tackles or run any lines at the weekend. But the legacy he left Irish rugby is massive.”

That was a fairly lobbed pitch for Sexton to bat back. Later in the briefing, though, he was served up with a real doozy that will have had many Kiwis leaning forward in their chairs.

Johnny SextonHead coach Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton arrive for an Ireland Rugby media conference at Stade Omnisports des Fauvettes in Domont. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

Johnny Sexton on New Zealand

Johnny Sexton was asked about the ‘mental hurdle’ of getting past the World Cup quarter finals. The Ireland captain is one of three players, including Conor Murray and Keith Earls, appearing in his fourth World Cup but argued that there is a significant turnover between tournaments.

“We have worked on our mental game for the last four years and put ourselves in different scenarios to prepare for this,” said Sexton.

“Each quarter-final, or where we haven’t got through our pool, have all been different, and it’s a different group again. Each of those groups lost once. It wasn’t the same group losing quarter-finals year and year. If it was club rugby it might be different but I don’t think we are carrying much baggage. It is a one-off game and we have got to prepare for now.”

Sexton has played on six sides [five Irish and with the 2017 Lions] to have beaten New Zealand, so a real rivalry has built up there. One reporter pointedly asked ‘what personal satisfaction’ he would take from knocking the All Blacks out, on Saturday. Sexton mulled it before replying:

“I haven’t thought once about personally what the game means. It’s all about the team, it’s nothing personal.

“I’ve had some great battles against New Zealand over the years, with Ireland and the Lions. What you learn is every game is as tough as the last. That’s what we’re preparing for, the toughest game we have ever faced, and we are trying to put ourselves in the frame of mind that we are going to be ready for it.”

Whenever Ireland’s World Cup journey ends, so too will the playing career of Johnny Sexton. The veteran outhalf was asked if he had visualised far enough to see himself lifting the Webb Ellis trophy.

“Trying to win a World Cup, it’s something to go and get,” he replied. “It’s not something that puts pressure on me.

“It’s something you dream of – probably not as a kid, because when we were kids we didn’t dream of Ireland winning a World Cup. I suppose we have put ourselves in a position to do that now. But it’s not something I’ve thought about in terms of my own career.

“I will think about it more when I finish. It’s all geared up to Saturday and it’s another massive challenge for this team, the biggest we have faced and we are looking forward to it.”


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