'There's not one ounce of complacency' - Johnny Sexton insists Ireland won't take injury-hit Wales lightly

Wayne Pivac’s reigning champions are hindered by the absence of a host of star names

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is not under-estimating depleted Wales (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ed Elliot

Johnny Sexton insists there is “not one ounce of complacency” in Ireland’s camp ahead of their Guinness Six Nations opener against depleted Wales.

Wayne Pivac’s side arrive in Dublin on Saturday as reigning champions but hindered by the absence of a host of star names.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones is among those unavailable, in addition to fellow British and Lions Leigh Halfpenny, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi.

While Ireland have the luxury of being relatively injury-free, skipper Sexton dismissed suggestions the situation gives the hosts a significant advantage.

“I’m not going to say that because then I’m insulting the guys that are coming in – and I think the guys that are coming in are excellent players,” the fly-half said.

“The guys that are injured of course have big reputations because they’ve played multiple Tests for their country. They’ve performed week in, week out.

Alun Wyn Jones is a notable injury absentee for Wales (Adam Davy/PA)

“But these other guys that are coming in are at the start of their journey and could go on and have the same careers as the guys ahead of them.

We haven't spoken too much about who they are missing; we've spoken about who they've got.

Johnny Sexton on Wales

“There’s not one ounce of complacency in our squad.

“We haven’t spoken too much about who they are missing; we’ve spoken about who they’ve got. We see a big tough test ahead.”

Experienced Wales leader Jones – the world’s most-capped player – is sidelined with a shoulder injury.

The enforced absence of the 36-year-old means fly-half Dan Biggar will captain the visitors at the Aviva Stadium.

Johnny Sexton has enjoyed numerous battles with rival fly-half Dan Biggar (David Davies/PA)

Biggar said this week that rival 10 Sexton is among the toughest opponents he has faced during his career.

Sexton is eagerly anticipating another tussle with his former Lions team-mate, with whom he toured New Zealand in 2017.

“We’ve had some great battles over the years,” Sexton said. “He’s a good pal of mine.

“The captaincy is something he deservers thoroughly. He’s led from the front since probably 2015 when he made the jersey his own. He’s been a mainstay of the team and I am looking forward to coming up against him on Saturday.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is preparing for the visit of Wales (Brain Lawless/PA)

“I think he’s improved his game immensely over the years.

“He’s a world-class operator, so we’ve been preparing for him all week and obviously they’ve got some other really good number 10s who will be backing him up.”

Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan and Iain Henderson were expected to take part in training at Ireland’s camp in Portugal on Tuesday, which would give head coach Andy Farrell a full complement of players to select from going into the weekend opener.

Irish hopes of title glory last year were wiped out inside two rounds, beginning with a narrow 21-16 loss to Wales in Cardiff after flanker Peter O’Mahony was sent off inside 14 minutes.

Peter O’Mahony’s early dismissal damaged Ireland’s hopes of victory in Wales last year (David Davies/PA)

While Wales went on to win the championship, Farrell’s men were left to reflect on what might have been.

“Some of the things we look back on in that game were frustrations and things that we didn’t execute,” Sexton said.

“(There were) small margins right up until the final whistle.

“You don’t like looking back on games with regrets; you like to look back and say, ‘We ticked every box, we did everything we wanted to do’ and sometimes you lose and you can accept it.

“But we look back on that game with some frustrations.”