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'It is just the way he is around the place, the standards he drives' - Best's praise for Sexton

Captain hails ‘world-class’ fly-half and says Ireland won’t be complacent against Italy at the Aviva

Ireland's Rory Best (left) and Jonathan Sexton
Ireland's Rory Best (left) and Jonathan Sexton
Jonathan Sexton during Ireland Rugby squad training at Carton House in Kildare. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland captain Rory Best says "world-class" Johnny Sexton sets the tone for his Ireland team-mates ahead of his side's second step to what they hope will be Grand Slam glory.

The Ulster hooker leads the side against Italy at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon and tries are very much on the agenda as they look to put themselves in a strong position ahead of the rest week.

The visit of Conor O'Shea's Azzurri is the first of three successive home games for Joe Schmidt's side who take on Wales and Scotland in Dublin before their grand finale against England at Twickenham on St Patrick's Day.

Sexton's heroic, last-gasp drop goal ensured the men in green got their campaign off to a winning start last weekend and Best said the presence of the Leinster No 10 in the Irish ranks means they always have a chance at glory.

"It gives you a world-class player. We've seen it last week," he said of the contribution Sexton gives to the team.

"Last week probably highlighted it above nearly any other moment, potentially, in his Test career. In big moments, in big games, he has the ability to step up.

"That all aside, it is just the way he is around the place, the standards he drives, the way he holds himself to the highest standards. He is just a competitor.

"When you get that and you get a few more people in the surroundings, of the same ilk, it spreads through the squad.

"Then, you get young guys coming in and they see that's the way you behave. All of a sudden, you get a trend within a squad. It can very easily go the other way, if you have people who cut corners and young players come in and see that, that's what they do.

"We're really lucky in that we have that core of players that really want to win and, under no circumstances, do they ever like to lose.

"And Johnny probably epitomises that for us."

Ireland start as 34-point favourites for this afternoon's game, but Best believes Schmidt's decision to shake up selection means complacency will not be an issue against a team they've beaten heavily in the past two seasons.

Dan Leavy, Jack Conan, Devin Toner and Jack McGrath come into the starting pack, while Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion and Jordan Larmour are on the bench, having all missed Paris.

"Complacency shouldn't be an issue because of the pressure and you look at the changes made from last week to this week. It has by no means weakened the team," he said.

"I think everyone is aware of how the other provinces, how the other players are going when you're in camp and how people are training and you know that's a very pressurised environment with a lot of quality players.

"And that in itself creates competition, and I feel if you have a real strong competition then you never take anything for granted.

"If you're the sort of character that will take anything for granted, you'd like to think that in our environment you'd be very quickly found out."

Irish Independent

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