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'I played with Devin Toner all the way through' - Johnny Sexton pays tribute to players who missed World Cup cut

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Jonathan Sexton, right, and Devin Toner during the Ireland rugby squad captain's run at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Jonathan Sexton, right, and Devin Toner during the Ireland rugby squad captain's run at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Jonathan Sexton, right, and Devin Toner during the Ireland rugby squad captain's run at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

In professional sport, you can only show so much emotion. Johnny Sexton empathises with the team-mates he and Ireland will leave behind when they go to Japan but already the focus has shifted towards Wales on Saturday.

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best’s final home game is being viewed as a launch-pad for this Ireland team’s World Cup campaign and, after the drama of Monday’s squad announcement, the focus has quickly shifted.

The coach confirmed Sexton will start on Saturday, while Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls are in line to feature.

After suffering a thumb injury in the early stages of Ireland’s pre-season and a leg issue during the warm-weather camp in Portugal, Sexton is raring to get going.

But he also took time at today’s press conference to paid tribute to the players for whom the World Cup dream died – at least for now – on Monday.

"I’m looking forward to it, it's been a good pre-season, it was frustrating obviously, picking up the knock at a bad time, yeah, looking forward to it now," he said.

"I played with Dev (Toner) all the way through. You're obviously looking out for yourself first of all in selection and then you are thinking about those closest to you. I feel for Dev as I do for Kieran Marmion, who has put in an unbelievable amount of work.

"The list goes on: Jordi (Murphy), Will Addison, guys that came so close, that are still in with us.

"It shows the mark of those guys that they are willing to come in after such disappointment to train as they have over the last couple of days, they know that they could be needed. There is a game to play still, guys could pick up knocks so those guys need to be ready."

This is Sexton’s third World Cup but he is not ready to declare this the strongest squad he’s been involved in.

"It's hard to compare. Even when you look at those 2011 games, it's like a different game almost," he said.

"In a short period of time the game just moves on so it is very hard to compare squads.

"There is good strength in depth there now, that's what we've built over the last couple of years through guys getting injured, Joe giving guys lots of chances through the last couple of Six Nations and we'll see if we are the strongest squad put together if we get past the quarter-final."

Ireland have put in a huge amount of work on their fitness with the aim of arriving into Yokohama in two weeks’ time ready to take on Scotland.

"You judge everything about the outcome in terms of at the end of the World Cup, we'll say 'I don't know if we were match fit' or say 'we were really match fit, that's why we did what we did'," Sexton said.

"It's all going to be judged in a few months’ time. But what we've done so far is we've trusted the process because we've got one of the best guys in the world in (strength and conditioning coach) Jason Cowman and he puts the plan together and the plan is for us to peak over the next few weeks and peak for that Scotland game.

"Within that, there's obviously really tough weeks like the England week, which is also designed in there

"Maybe Wales had that last week after coming back from, I think they were in Turkey.

"So they'll probably better this week because of that so everyone is at different stages of their preparation in the warm-ups and then it all comes to fruition in the World Cup time.

"We trust in the process, it's easy for us, we just put our head down and work as hard as we can and get told when to stop."

Sexton believes the team are over their Six Nations slump in confidence and, while they won’t forget their defeat to England on opening day, they have moved on from that confidence-breaking day at the Aviva Stadium.

"We'll use that England game for a long time to refer back to and shows when you don't prepare as well as you can and when you don't turn up on the day as well as you can but we also refer to all the good times over the last few years that sometimes gets forgotten with a defeat like that," he said.

"We take great confidence from what we have achieved and we often refer back to that. So it's trying to balance things out really."

That loss to England was one of the few bad days Ireland have had under head coach Schmidt and captain Best at home.

And, while Sexton is focused on performing with the World Cup in mind, he is also conscious of sending that duo off on a high in their final home internationals.

"Yeah it will be (significant), for him (Schmidt) and Rory (Best),” he said.

"Rory is someone who has been there with Joe through all those games.

"We need the narrow the focus down to the Wales game in terms of what we have to do preparation-wise to build in towards Scotland.

"But in the back of our minds, yeah, when you talk about people that have had an impact on Irish Rugby, I'm not sure any coaches would go on the list, it would all be players and Rory would jump onto that playing list for his captaincy and for his playing for over his 100 and whatever, 20, 30 caps, whatever he's got now, I keep losing track.

"Joe impact-wise with Leinster to start off and with Ireland, has been phenomenal. Records speak for themselves.

"To do what he did in Leinster, we got to six finals in three years, we won four of them and to go on with three Championships with Ireland. But then also the special games where we've done things for the first time. All the firsts were probably the most special.

"We'll miss him in terms of what he brings, what he has brought but we've got to have that in the back of our mind but again, he'll drive it. He won't be saying anything about himself but we will.

"We have got to go back to driving the performance and build that momentum that we crave and that we need to have for Scotland."

Online Editors