‘Pinnacle of my career’: Six Nations title would be best ever for Johnny Sexton

Sexton’s last game at Stade de France saw the fly-half clinch victory with an epic drop goal at the death
‘Pinnacle of my career’: Six Nations title would be best ever for Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton training with the Ireland squad at the IRFU High Performance Centre at the Sport Ireland Campus in Blanchardstown. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Johnny Sexton believes captaining Ireland to a Six Nations title would be the pinnacle of his glittering career but he knows it will take something extra special from his team if they are to clinch it with a bonus-point victory in Paris this Saturday night.

Sexton’s last game at Stade de France saw the fly-half clinch victory with an epic drop goal at the death in February 2018 that began a run to an Ireland Grand Slam and a year that saw him crowned World Rugby Player of the Year.

The 35-year-old veteran said victory had not been spoken about in the current Ireland camp, under new management with Andy Farrell having replaced Joe Schmidt last November.

Yet similar heroics could prove just as meaningful this weekend, although Ireland could need a bonus-point win over France if England get the same return from their trip to Rome earlier in the day — that is something no Irish team has managed in Six Nations history.

Yet on the brink of his 93rd Ireland Test, Sexton, 35, acknowledged it would mean an awful lot to him if he did lead his country to silverware, not that he had addressed the issue prior to yesterday’s media session.

‘I haven’t really thought about it until you said it there. I suppose we’re not really talking about that. It’s amazing when you’re in this environment, we don’t talk about the championship as much.

We’re all very process-focused and driven at the moment, it’s all about that.

“But now that you say it, it would be the pinnacle of my career to be captain of a team to win a trophy — especially for Ireland — and I’m very proud to do it. To win something would be the pinnacle really.”

The obstacles in Ireland’s way, however, are considerable and that is what Sexton relishes most, he said about the contest, drawing comparisons with last February’s pattern of games when a winning start to the championship pre-lockdown was undone by England at Twickenham in a 24-14 defeat.

“It’s the challenge, isn’t it? When you are playing away from home in any international it’s different.

“I suppose that’s what we need to understand. We played our first two home games, Scotland and Wales, and we did a lot good.

We did some things that weren’t great, then obviously when you go to England, you’ve got to be a hell of a lot better, and you’ve got to play a little bit different.

“Obviously we have a similar situation now. We have had a home game against Italy, but now we have to take the lessons from six, seven months ago against England and play a lot better away from home because it’s different.

“It’s harder and obviously some of the reasons are the crowd, but there are other reasons as well. France are obviously a top-class team and we need to be at our very best this weekend.”

Last Saturday’s 50-17 victory over the Italians set up this weekend’s title bid and was an encouraging return to form following the Twickenham setback, tempered only by France carving Wales apart later on that evening with five tries in a 38-21 warm-up victory at home.

Former Racing man Sexton credited the impetus brought by incoming head coach Fabien Galthié and his defence coach Shaun Edwards.

“They have been very impressive. You can see the coaches’ fingerprints all over it really in terms of defence, how much more aggressive they are with their line speed. Obviously, Shaun Edwards has been excellent with Wales over the years.

"We have found them particularly tough to break down with that line speed. That has been something we have been talking about a lot.

“Then with Galthié, obviously, the way they play is pure French, isn’t it? That offloading game, I know from my time there, they call it the ‘duels’ where they rely on beating you one-on-one — they get that pass away into the space.

“That’s their game, really. They like to play quick, offload, dominate in the collisions, and in defence they bring line speed.

“They are clever with how they play. They don’t play too much in their own half and they tend to kick a lot of ball long and keep the ball in.

"So, we probably won’t have that many lineouts. Luckily we had a bit of practice last week with Italy, who did the exact same to us.”

Johnny Sexton believes captaining Ireland to a Six Nations title would be the pinnacle of his glittering career but he knows it will take something extra special from his team if they are to clinch it with a bonus-point victory in Paris this Saturday night.

Sexton’s last game at Stade de France saw the fly-half clinch victory with an epic drop goal at the death in February 2018 that began a run to an Ireland Grand Slam and a year that saw him crowned World Rugby Player of the Year.

The 35-year-old veteran said that victory had not been spoken about in the current Ireland camp, under new management with Andy Farrell having replaced Joe Schmidt last November. Yet similar heroics could prove just as meaningful this weekend, although Ireland could need a bonus-point win over France if England get the same return from their trip to Rome earlier in the day and that is something no Irish team has managed in Six Nations history.

Yet on the brink of his 93rd Ireland Test, Sexton, 35, acknowledged it would mean an awful lot to him if he did lead his country to silverware, not that he had addressed the issue prior to yesterday’s media session.

'I haven't really thought about it until you said it there. I suppose we're not really talking about that. It's amazing when you're in this environment, we don't talk about the championship as much. We're all very process-focused and driven at the moment, it's all about that.

“But now that you say it, it would be the pinnacle of my career to be captain of a team to win a trophy - especially for Ireland and I'm very proud to do it. To win something would be the pinnacle really.”

The obstacles in Ireland’s way, however, are considerable and that is what Sexton relishes most, he said about the contest, drawing comparisons with last February’s pattern of games when a winning start to the championship pre-lockdown was undone by England at Twickenham in a 24-14 defeat.

“It's the challenge, isn't it? When you are playing away from home in any international it's different.

“I suppose that's what we need to understand. We played our first two home games, Scotland and Wales, and we did a lot good.

“We did some things that weren't great, then obviously when you go to England, you've got to be a hell of a lot better, and you've got to play a little bit different.

“Obviously we have a similar situation now. We have had a home game against Italy, but now we have to take the lessons from six, seven months ago against England and play a lot better away from home because it's different.

“It's harder and obviously some of the reasons are the crowd, but there are other reasons as well. France are obviously a top-class team and we need to be at our very best this weekend.”

Last Saturday’s 50-17 victory over the Italians set up this weekend’s title bid and was an encouraging return to form following the Twickenham setback, tempered only by France carving Wales apart later on that evening with five tries in a 38-21 warm-up victory at home Former Racing Metro man Sexton credited the impetus brought by incoming head coach Fabien Galthié and his defence coach Shaun Edwards.

“They have been very impressive. You can see the coaches' fingerprints all over it really in terms of defence, how much more aggressive they are with their linespeed. Obviously Shaun Edwards has been excellent with Wales over the years. We have found them particularly tough to break down with that linespeed. That has been something we have been talking about a lot.

“Then with Galthié, obviously, the way they play is pure French isn't it. That offloading game, I know from my time there, they call it the "duels" where they rely on beating you one-on-one – they get that pass away into the space.

“That's their game really. They like to play quick, offload, dominate in the collisions and in defence they bring line speed. They are clever with how they play. They don't play too much in their own half and they tend to kick a lot of ball long and keep the ball in.

“So, we probably won't have that many lineouts. Luckily we had a bit of practice last week with Italy, who did the exact same to us.”

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