Sexton hungry to make an impact on return at Aviva

This Saturday’s game against Wales may mark the start of Jonathan Sexton’s season but it will mark the last time that an Ireland team takes to the field in Dublin under the watchful eye of Joe Schmidt.

Sexton hungry to make an impact on return at Aviva

This Saturday’s game against Wales may mark the start of Jonathan Sexton’s season but it will mark the last time that an Ireland team takes to the field in Dublin under the watchful eye of Joe Schmidt.

The Kiwi has been in charge for 33 games, all of them at the Aviva Stadium. He has seen his side win 27 of them and draw another while scoring 113 tries (but just the one drop goal) and create a plethora of pleasant memories.

Ireland have beaten every major nation at Lansdowne Road on Schmidt’s watch and Rory Best has been his captain for the majority of it. He too will be appearing at the ground for the last time in his current capacity and Sexton was keen to hail the Ulsterman’s input too.

And as for Schmidt, what a legacy he leaves behind.

“Joe, impact-wise, with Leinster and with Ireland, has been phenomenal,” said Sexton. “Records speak for themselves. To do what he did with Leinster: We got six finals in three years and won four of them. And then to go on and win three championships with Ireland and the special games we’ve had. All the firsts were probably the most special.

We’ll miss him in terms of what he brings, what he has done. We’ve got to have that in the back of our mind but, again, he’ll drive it. He won’t be saying anything about himself but we will.

"We’ve got to go back to driving the performance and build that momentum that we crave and that we need to have for Scotland.”

The hope is that Sexton’s first appearance of the season will add to that momentum.

The lack of game time due to injury in the summer hasn’t been ideal but the out-half has demonstrated before that he is one of those players who can hit the ground running in big games and on the back of little exposure.

“Looking forward to it,” he said yesterday shortly after Schmidt again confirmed that the veteran 10 will start against Warren Gatland’s side this weekend.

“It’s been a good pre-season, frustrating obviously, picking up the knock at a bad time. Yeah, looking forward to it now.”

Others can only look on from afar now as the team hopes to take flight.

Schmidt’s confirmed squad selection raised a few eyebrows, most obviously in the decision to opt for the inexperienced (at this level) Jean Kleyn over the mainstay that is Devin Toner and Sexton had plenty of sympathy for the big man with whom he has served for so long with club and country.

“I played with Dev all the way through. You’re obviously looking out for yourself first of all in selection and then you are thinking about those closest to you. I feel for Dev as I do for Kiernan Marmion, who has put in an unbelievable amount of work. The list goes on: Jordi, Will Addison, guys that came so close, that are still in with us.

“It shows the mark of those guys that they are willing to come in after such disappointment to train as they have over the last couple of days, they know that they could be needed. There is a game to play still, guys could pick up knocks so those guys need to be ready.”

Meanwhile, Jonny Wilkinson believes England’s masters of reinvention can power their country to World Cup glory in Japan.

The former England fly-half believes the class of 2019 boasts a backline full of rare-breed talents that can strike fear into opponents in Japan.

England will launch their World Cup bid against Tonga on September 22, with former Newcastle and Toulon fly-half Wilkinson backing Jones’ men to peak at the right time.

“The momentum is rolling, they are peaking,” Wilkinson said. “I’d definitely like to think they can win it.

What’s impressed me most is that every time they get a chance to regroup they always come back stronger.

“That doesn’t mean it always goes perfectly. But every time they regroup the next performance is huge, and they are very good at building momentum.

“They’re constantly coming back bigger and stronger, and reinventing themselves, and for me, that’s the key.

“And teams will have to do that in this World Cup, it won’t just be a straight run of wins.

“That ability to take it all in, absorb it, say ‘who cares, what do we do next’? That’s key.”

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