Tuesday 22 October 2019

Sexton: We can take hurt into this week but it will stay 'til tournament's end

Johnny Sexton sets the tone during yesterday’s press conference. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Johnny Sexton sets the tone during yesterday’s press conference. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Something has usually gone awry when Johnny Sexton is put up for the first media session of a big game week.

It's a sensible ploy - get the best speaker within the squad to front up and set the tone for the week ahead and although Sexton didn't play a part in the shocker at Shizuoka, he is the heart beat of this Ireland team.

As if that was ever still in doubt, his absence in the nightmare defeat to Japan served as a timely reminder of the outhalf's value.

You only have to think back to Ireland, Leinster and the Lions big days in recent years. The one common theme between them all is Sexton's presence.

We are unlikely to ever know how Joe Schmidt's plans for Thursday's must-win game against Russia have altered after the defeat, but Sexton would appear to be in the running to return.

Schmidt decided not to risk the 34-year old who has been struggling with a niggling quad issue that limited his training load last week as well as his place-kicking ability during the win over Scotland.

Sexton is due to train fully today and having kicked "a little bit" yesterday morning, he is relishing the chance to be unleashed against the Russians.

"A week is a long time in sport - how high we were last week to how low we were today and we want to get back on the other side of that as soon as possible," Sexton said, shortly after the squad arrived at their new base in Kobe.

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"We can take the hurt into this week a little bit but it's going to stay with us until the end of this tournament."

The defeat to Japan has led to the inevitable hysteria that Ireland are creaking under the pressure at another World Cup and while there did seem to be a large element of that, they are still very much in control of their own destiny.

As Sexton attempted to draw any sort of positives from Saturday's terrible display, he pointed to the fact that his side still have time to turn it around rather than boarding the next flight back to Dublin - as has been the case at the two previous World Cup when they suffered their first defeat at the quarter-final stage.

"At one stage we won 23 out of 26 games and we had lots of doubters, so you're always going to have doubters in this game," Sexton acknowledged.

"Ultimately you want to do everyone proud, you want to make the people of Ireland proud, you want to make your family watching at home proud and, yeah, ultimately the guys that you're closest to are your team-mates and they're the guys you have to look at, at the end of the day.

"The guys gave it everything yesterday, no one can deny that and no one can point the finger and say there was a lack of effort. It was whole-hearted.

"Even at the end, we were one metre out from their line and we scored against Scotland in those situations.

"I think maybe two or three times in the first half . . . three times out of three probably, we didn't take the one against Japan so it's small things and we'll fix them up.

"Hopefully I'll get to go out this Thursday with the boys and we can put in a performance we can be proud of, and more importantly, put us in a good position to get into the quarter-final.

"The great thing is that we've got the rest of the pool to get things together. We know, to a certain extent, that we've got things in our own hands in terms of if we can win the last two games and score a number of tries we can definitely qualify for the quarter-final.

"If that's in first or second place, that's out of our control, so we won't worry about that. It's up to us now to put in two big performances and hopefully put ourselves into a quarter-final and we know if we do that, then we've got a chance."

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