‘It's just very, very special’ – Johnny Sexton praises Ireland resilience in series win over All Blacks
After masterfully leading his side to a historic series win at the opposite side of the world, Johnny Sexton's mind began to wonder what the celebratory scenes were like back home in Ireland.
Ireland's historic achievement in New Zealand will send shockwaves through the sport, as the All Blacks were humbled on their own turf.
Just as he was in Dunedin last weekend, Sexton was at his brilliant best once again in Wellington tonight, as he rolled back the years to become the first man to captain Ireland to a series win on Kiwi soil.
“I’m sure there’s lots of smiling faces across the country,” a proud Sexton said after his side's 32-22 victory.
“It’s something that’s not lost on us. We speak about it all the time – primarily about family at home but also the people of Ireland that we represent and I don’t think they can be much prouder.
“Even if we lost the game today, the effort to turn up – because sometimes in the final Test – and I’ve been on tours before where it’s very easy to drift off into your holiday or to drift off to somewhere else.
“The boys stayed on it this week. We got the balance right between rest and recovery and making sure that we were fresh. Credit to Faz (Andy Farrell) and the management. They nailed it and the boys did exactly what they asked."
The joyous scenes at the full-time whistle continued in the changing room, and on the streets of Wellington, as the Ireland players and supporters alike savoured what was a once in a lifetime moment.
“It doesn't get much better than this,” Sexton admitted.
“By saying that, it's the biggest respect we can give New Zealand.
“The celebrations probably weren't the most humble but that shows how much it means to us. To come down here... We came here with the Lions and we thought it was great to get a draw.
“The guys that felt we should have won were criticised, so to come down here and do it, is just very, very special. It's a special group, led by Faz of course. It's great to be a part of.”
Ireland are set to climb to top of the world rankings, which will naturally increase the hype and expectation around this team.
Having been down this road when they won a Grand Slam in 2018 before coming unstuck the following World Cup year, Sexton wants his players to embrace the pressure that will come on them when they play again in November.
We have got a full season to play, it shouldn't be 'Beat New Zealand and let's wait for the World Cup,'” Sexton insisted.
“There is plenty more to play. There are big home games in November, there's a Six Nations to play. We still haven't achieved things that we want to achieve.
“We got a Triple Crown this year but a Championship or better would be something that we are aiming for.
“So, there is no reason why we shouldn't be trying to progress and do that. It's very Irish to think 'Oh we have to take it easy now until the World Cup.'
“But no, let's keep making the most of it. Let's keep getting better. That has to be driven by, of course, me as captain and the rest of the leadership group to turn up and show the right attitude in September.
“Then we are back playing for our provinces. Just keep getting better, that's the key.
“Like every time you play for Ireland is incredibly special,” Sexton added.
“And to do something that no team has ever done before, will we ever get a chance to play three Tests in New Zealand again? I’m not sure.
“If this world league idea that comes in we’ll be playing one Test all over the shop but I think the three-Test series is special and that’s proven by today’s game and the deciders that are going to come and we’ll watch tonight, every last game is down to a decider so yeah, it would be a shame to get rid of them.”