Tuesday 15 October 2019

Jonathan Davies: Johnny Sexton is Ireland's general and sets high standards for everyone

For lots of reasons, Ireland are blessed to have the best 10 in the world in Johnny Sexton
For lots of reasons, Ireland are blessed to have the best 10 in the world in Johnny Sexton

Andrew Baldock

Jonathan Davies is set to face a player he describes as Ireland's "general" when Wales enter win-or-bust RBS 6 Nations territory next Saturday.

Davies might be opposing Irish fly-half talisman Johnny Sexton at the Millennium Stadium, but he also has first-hand experience of playing alongside him.

Wales centre Davies and Sexton started all three Tests for the 2013 British and Irish Lions against Australia, and the Clermont Auvergne star knows what to expect from Ireland's celebrated number 10.

"He is obviously their general and marshals their troops," Davies said.

"I noticed that in Australia. He expected high standards at training.

"He knew his role and expected everyone else to know them. If you didn't, he gave you an earful.

"That's what professional rugby is about. He is one of the best in the world at the moment at marshalling the game."

Sexton, who is currently battling a hamstring strain, is pivotal to Irish hopes of retaining the Six Nations title and securing a possible Grand Slam.

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Victory against Wales would leave Ireland one more win away from guaranteeing both objectives, but Davies and company will be removed from the title equation if they do not topple an Irish team unbeaten against them in Six Nations combat since 2012.

"Ireland are (ranked) third in the world and they have won 10 games in a row," Davies added.

"They are a very good team, they are defending (Six Nations) champions and are well-coached.

"It's a tough task for us, and we have to make sure we get a good week's preparation and really focus on the game."

Wales head coach Warren Gatland is due to name his team on Tuesday, with Davies and midfield partner Jamie Roberts set to feature in what will probably be an unchanged line-up following victory over France nine days ago.

Gatland, meanwhile, has added fit-again Scarlets hooker Ken Owens to the Six Nations squad, with Owens reporting for training on Monday.

Davies and Roberts became accustomed to opposing an ultra-experienced Irish centre combination of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy during their Test careers, but this time around it will be a new unit of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw facing them.

"Their centre partnership is a good one," Davies said. "They are big boots to fill, and they seem to be doing quite well.

"They have played well together and seem to have a good understanding, which is important for a centre pairing.

"They understand their roles and what each other is doing. That normally takes a bit of time, but they seem to have taken to it really quickly.

"There is always pressure on anyone with the Welsh jersey on to perform. We put that on ourselves, to make sure that we deliver a performance worthy of the jersey and make sure we get the victory.

"It's sometimes difficult to put your mark on the game. What me and Jamie try to do is make sure we get as many touches on the ball and influence the game in a positive manner.

"Against France, as a team, we played some decent stuff at times and we controlled the game really well, I thought.

"The game-management was excellent from the half-backs, and although France came at us sometimes, we weathered the pressure and came out on top.

"We have just got to keep doing everything we can to be there (in title contention).

"We have done that the last two games after the disappointment against England, and we just have to make sure we keep playing and executing well what we do. It's not going to fall into our laps as such, but we're ready to pounce."

And if Wales do defeat Ireland for only a third time in Cardiff since 1983, their half-backs Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb will undoubtedly have a major influence on proceedings.

While much is rightly made of the Sexton-Conor Murray partnership, Biggar and Webb have also shone for their country.

"They started the season off in great form, and they have just got better and better," Davies added.

"Webby is scoring tries for fun - he is a real threat around the ruck area - and I think Biggs has been excellent with his game-management.

"He is just an intelligent rugby player, and the two of them have a strong relationship after playing a lot of rugby together from a young age."

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