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Fit-again Johnny Sexton ‘good to go’ for Japan, as Ireland captain reveals shift in World Cup preparation

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Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton has declared himself fit for next week's Test against Japan, as the Ireland captain revealed a major shift in the squad's mindset, as they build towards the 2023 World Cup.

Sexton had been struggling with a hip injury, but he has returned to training in recent days, as the Ireland squad gathered today in preparation for the upcoming Autumn Nations Series.

The news will come as a boost to Andy Farrell ahead of the games against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina, with Sexton echoing Farrell's sentiment that preparation for the World Cup will ramp up over the coming weeks.

In the past, Ireland have shied away from any World Cup talk until the months leading up to the tournament, but that approach has now changed under Farrell.

“Yep, all good, I just had a little niggle in my hip over the last couple of weeks, but good to go,” Sexton said with regard to his fitness.

“I trained yesterday, trained two days before that, and yeah, all good. So I'm ready to train tomorrow.

“We've got meetings today, we just met up this morning and I'll train fully this week and next week and hopefully lead into Japan.”

Sexton has made no secret of his desire to lead Ireland at the World Cup in France in two years, while he is eager for the squad to embrace the challenge rather than ignoring the bigger picture.

“That’s on the horizon. We have spoken about that, that we have a two-year block ahead of us and how we can go into that tournament in the best place we can be and full of confidence and ready to take on the world,” Sexton said.

“We spoke about that and that block starts now. We want to see continuous improvement and consistency that everyone is proud of. The focus is all on Japan now to get off on the best foot possible.”

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Having played at the last three World Cups, Sexton is well-positioned to know what went wrong in the past, and how Ireland can go about not making the same mistakes again.

From that end, his bullish attitude is a welcome change to previous cycles when players and coaches shut down any talk of the World Cup this far out.

“There is a difference already because we’ve mentioned the World Cup two years out,” Sexton explained.

“We’ve sort of put it on the radar which we’ve never done before, certainly since I’ve been involved.

“We talked about the World Cup the summer of, and we’ve always been focused on what’s in front of us.

“And we still are focused on what’s in front of us, but I suppose you can see through the group the young fresh faces and the younger generation coming through and why shouldn’t it be, it’s the biggest thing you can do in the game and everyone wants to get there and everyone wants to do well in it.

“It’s great to have it there in the back of your mind and it’s something to strive for because if you view it as a journey, there is always that end point that you can strive towards.

“You have to be open-minded enough to do things in different ways. I like it. It's what other countries do. You can see it in their selections.

“But we have a duty that we want to win games now as well. I think every country has to find that balance. That's not up to me, it's up to the coaching staff. Hopefully we can kick it off to a new level."

In embracing the challenge of what is a tough international season lying ahead, Sexton wants his side to lay down a marker next month ahead of next year's Six Nations.

“I think it's a big series of games,” the 99-times capped out-half added.

“Since Andy's come in we've had some great performances and we've had some average performances, so for us it's about getting that consistency. The level of consistency where you don't see us going up and down, you see a standard that we want to set with Japan being first up, and then continuing that for the two games subsequently.

“Then we'll see where we are leading into the Six Nations. But we're taking it game by game as such, we've always said that. It's a huge game against Japan.

“You saw against Australia how they made life difficult for them. They've been outstanding over many fixtures over the last couple of years, especially during that World Cup.

“They haven't had many fixtures since the World Cup obviously, but they were a team to be reckoned with and we won't be taking them lightly, of course.”

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