Saturday 23 March 2019

Johnny Sexton says Ireland are aiming to end Wales' winning run just like they did to England and New Zealand

Jonathan Sexton at Carton House
Jonathan Sexton at Carton House
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

A year ago, Ireland had an invincible aura about them as they marched into Twickenham to win their Grand Slam.

Their previous few months had given them a bullet-proof feeling and they produced a stunning performance to complete the job.

Twelve months on, they arrive in Cardiff with their confidence restored but it is Wales who sail into the grand finale on the crest of a wave.

Unbeaten in 13 Test matches, Warren Gatland's side are in rude health and 80 minutes away from a piece of history.

However, this Ireland team have pooped a party or two before.

In 2016, they stopped New Zealand's winning record dead at 18 in Chicago and, a few months later, they prevented Eddie Jones' England from surpassing the same mark and winning the Grand Slam on the same day.

That gives Johnny Sexton belief that they can do it all again on Saturday.

"I don't know if Wales feel like they're invincible, they're saying that they've forgotten how to lose and all of that," the out-half said.

"They've eked out some results, we've played well against teams that have gone on runs before; New Zealand, England; stopping their runs.

"Again, we'll give them the respect that they absolutely deserve. We'll analyse them, we'll talk about where we can get at them, where we think they are very strong and we'll come up with a plan.

"I don't think we'll talk too much about the psychology of them.

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"I know from talking to some of the Welsh lads from previous tours that the expectation in Wales is huge all the time and it will be at its highest this week to get a Grand Slam.

"They don't come around too often. Yeah, they ill be under pressure but so will we. We want to finish on a high and win a championship.

"We still have a shout and we know that if we get a performance then the pressure is on England and then you never know what might happen."

Sexton cut an unhappy figure during Ireland's first three games of this year's Championship, but he believes the team "turned the corner" by beating France last weekend.

"The first 40 was excellent, we did everything that we wanted to do," he said.

"We had great intent despite the greasy ball early in the game. Very pleasing and it was good to sort of turn the corner, performance-wise.

"There are still parts of the game that we want to improve on, and that we will need to improve on, this weekend for what will be our biggest challenge to date and it's one we are looking forward to.

"Honestly, there was nothing majorly broken in the first few games.

"There was just some uncharacteristic errors from some individuals and some break downs in just a couple of things.

"That just adds up and if everyone makes a couple of mistakes then suddenly you have 30 errors and you are in a bit of trouble.

"We speak about the margins. Take me for example, you want to kick it ten metres from the restart and if you kick it nine-and-a-half there is an error but are not too far off kicking a good one.

"Kick it out on the full by half-a-yard and you're only half-a-yard from getting it right and you're not too far away from getting it right and that proved to be the case.

"They are four on the bounce and that is momentum for them as well. They are playing at home but, yeah, it the worst thing coming into this week would have been to have a bad performance. It's good to get one under the belt but we know that we will have to go up again and we know that there is another bit in us."

This will be Joe Schmidt and Rory Best's last Six Nations matches, but Sexton said it won't be a major talking point in camp this week.

"Of course that will be in the backs of our minds as well," he said.

"It's not something that I think we will talk about during the week when the focus is on performance but guys like that have given an incredible amount to Irish rugby over a very long time. Rory for the last, whatever, I don't even know how long he has been playing. Eighteen years or something like that!

"And then Joe who has had an incredible impact with Leinster and Ireland. When you have two characters like that it would be, what's the right word, it's in the back of your mind that you want to do the best for them."   

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