Just seven weeks short of a decade since he kicked the first of his 767 Test points on debut against Fiji, Johnny Sexton spoke about the honour of finally leading Ireland onto the field as team captain.
The 34-year-old, vice-captain along with Peter O’Mahony in a World Cup squad skippered by Rory Best, was named by head coach Joe Schmidt as Ireland captain for tomorrow’s Pool A match against Russia at Kobe Misaki Stadium.
It will be the fly-half’s 86th Test for Ireland and Sexton said little will change in the way he approaches the game.
“It doesn’t change what I do. The only added responsibility is conversing with the ref (Jerome Garces), really.
“Whether we do it in English or French, I think my pidgin French has probably taken a hit over the last few years! That’s the only extra responsibility.
“It’s just the honour. It’s a massive thing for me. It’s something I don’t take lightly. It’s something that has taken a while to get asked to do and it felt very nice when Joe had a chat with me. I look forward to hearing from my family when they wake up this morning.
I haven’t had a chance to speak to them yet but I’m sure they’ll be delighted.
Sexton declared himself 100% fit following the thigh strain that caused him to miss Saturday’s shock loss to Japan in Shizuoka.
Schmidt said he was delighted to be able to bestow the captaincy on his on-field general.
“The qualities of Johnny? The good thing for me is I’ve worked with Johnny for probably 10 years so I know how competitive and combative he is,” said Ireland’s head coach.
“Sometimes I watch him in play and he’s getting stuck into counter-rucks and I’m saying: ‘Just get the hell out of there, Johnny, and leave some of the big boys to do that’.
“But he’s no shrinking violet, no sort of lightweight himself.
“I think his ability to control a game, to see a game a little bit ahead of where it’s happening, is a massive strength. Now, he brings that without being captain but I do think it’s something where we want to have a really competitive and combative approach this week.
Johnny is ideal to lead that because of the character he is, let alone the qualities as far as his game-management and the individual skill that allows others get into the game. We’ve got some really good leadership around the team as well — Peter O’Mahony and Rhys Ruddock have both captained Ireland so they’ll look after the pack for a fair degree of the time.
“And we’ve got other leaders like Rob Kearney at the back, Keith Earls on the edge, and Garry Ringrose. So we feel like we’re really well covered with support for Johnny in what is a deserved honour.”