Monday 14 October 2019

'I haven't even had a chance to tell my family' - Johnny Sexton 'honoured' to lead Ireland against Russia

Joe Schmidt, left, and Jonathan Sexton in conversation during Ireland Rugby squad training at the Kobelco Steelers in Kobe, Japan
Joe Schmidt, left, and Jonathan Sexton in conversation during Ireland Rugby squad training at the Kobelco Steelers in Kobe, Japan

Cian Tracey in Kobe

By the time Johnny Sexton had sat in front of a packed press conference room, he hadn't yet told his family that he will captain Ireland from the start for the first time in Thursday's meeting with Russia.

Despite taking over as Leinster captain after Isa Nacewa left last year, Sexton has had to bide his time to wear the armband on the international stage.

With Rory Best given the night off, Peter O'Mahony, who skippered Ireland in the hooker's absence on last summer's tour to Australia, was also in the running, but Joe Schmidt opted for Sexton ahead of the Munster captain.

Sexton returns to the starting XV having missed last weekend's shock defeat to Japan and having taken a full part in training today, including kicking goals, the out-half is relishing the chance to get back out on the pitch and lead his country.

"It's a massive honour," Sexton said.

"I spoke to Joe this morning, so I only found out myself over the last few hours. I haven't even had a chance to tell my family or anything, but I'm sure they're going to be very proud as well.

"It's something that I've thought about since I was a kid, something I've made a lot of decisions around trying to get there one day.

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"It has taken a while but it was worth the wait and I'm incredibly proud. I want to be captain now of a good performance and a good win in a World Cup game, so that's my main focus.

"I don't think anything changes really for me. I have a big responsibility in the team anyway so nothing has changed."

With regard to the issues over his goal-kicking, Sexton insisted that he had overcome the quad issue that has been hampering him.

"Yeah, yeah I kicked yesterday a little bit – I wasn't out there too much – and then I kicked again today, in both sessions. So I feel good and ready to go now."

The conditions at the sweltering indoor stadium will be extremely tricky for the Ireland players, who will not have played in anything like it before.

The squad watched Scotland's win over Samoa last night and it didn't go unnoticed how much both sides struggled to get to grips with the humidity.

"We watched the game last night and it looked very slippy," Sexton added.

"We watched the England game as well. Obviously, when you hear it's an indoor stadium you think air-con and probably a little bit cooler, but it's quite the opposite, we hear.

"It's something we're going to have to be mindful of. Even when you play outside the ball gets pretty slippy.

"Against Japan, in the first half (the ball) was bone dry but the longer the game went on the sweatier everyone got. The ball was like a bar of soap.

"It's something we have to be conscious of, playing smartly – we can't just go out and run everything. But we have a good plan in place and hopefully it won't be too big a factor."

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