Wednesday 27 March 2019

Joe Schmidt hails 'super' Johnny Sexton and brushes off All Black suggestion that Ireland are World Cup favourites

Ireland's Jonathan Sexton after victory over New Zealand. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton after victory over New Zealand. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Joe Schmidt stopped short of insisting that Johnny Sexton should be crowned World Rugby's Player of the Year at the end of the month, but he did hammer home just how important the out-half is to Ireland.

Sexton's clash with Beauden Barrett was billed as a straight shootout to see who would be crowned the winner in Monte Carlo on November 25, and there was no doubt who came out on top in their individual duel as the Ireland out-half expertly pulled the strings and led his side to a first victory over the All Blacks on Irish soil.

That emotion was etched all over Sexton's face when he bundled Ben Smith into touch in the closing stages

"I thought Johnny was incredibly good for us in all sorts of ways," Schmidt enthused. "He distributed really well. Defensively he stands up and delivers. He had cramp and he showed courage, he kept going.

"Even towards the end of the game, he said, 'Ah just give me a minute, I can finish this out'. But we decided not to give him a minute because he pushed himself far enough.

"Is he a super player for us? Absolutely. And somebody else will make decisions about if he is good enough to be considered the World Player of Year."

The Ireland head coach brushed off Steve Hansen's suggestion that Ireland will go to Japan next year as World Cup favourites.

In typical Schmidt fashion, he pointed to next weekend's clash against the USA as the next focus.

"He (Hansen) probably joined a little bit of banter, " Schmidt insisted.

"I have got huge respect for Steve, Fozzy (Ian Foster) and Scott McLeod - their coaching staff.

"So for us to be favourites when they have been the world-number-one team for nine years and continue to be the world number one team."

Ireland defended for their lives in the second-half and shut out the All Blacks, with the visitors tryless for the first time against a northern hemisphere nation since the 1995 clash with France.

Asked if Ireland are now World Cup favourites, Schmidt added: "We've got to work hard to make sure we're ready for the USA. People will, I suppose, postulate about who's where, who's favourite. It's a nebulous thing for us."

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