'Roll on the World Cup' - Sexton aiming higher once again 

Sexton and his team will allow themselves 48 hours to savour their success, the captain said
'Roll on the World Cup' - Sexton aiming higher once again 

FAMILY AFFAIR: Ireland’s Johnny Sexton celebrates winning with his children Luca, Sophie and Amy, his teammates, the Six Nations trophy and the Triple Crown trophy. Pic: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Johnny Sexton described lifting the Guinness Six Nations trophy and completing a Grand Slam as Ireland captain as the high point of his career but the veteran fly-half added he was aiming higher still.

Sexton, 37, was playing his final championship game in his 113th Ireland appearance, 13 years after a Six Nations debut off the bench against France. He made it a special occasion, not only moving past predecessor and compatriot Ronan O’Gara as the tournament’s record points scorer with a penalty and three conversions against England to move to 566.


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More satisfying was the 29-16 bonus-point victory secured under his leadership that secured a clean sweep for the only the fourth time in Irish rugby history and a first since 2018 on the back of two tries from Dan Sheehan and one apiece from Robbie Henshaw and Rob Herring.

Joe Schmidt was Ireland boss then with Andy Farrell his defence coach when Ireland beat England five years ago at Twickenham. Sexton on Saturday night paid tribute to Farrell the head coach who succeeded Schmidt after Ireland’s 2019 World Cup quarter-final exit and has taken the national team to another level with a Six Nations Triple Crown in 2022, followed by a historic first series win against the All Blacks in New Zealand last summer.

It was Farrell who appointed the fly-half to the captaincy and though there were some early sticky moments in his leadership, not least when he reacted badly to being replaced in France during his first Six Nations campaign, Sexton described the Englishman as a “very special coach” as he looked forward to a World Cup campaign still to come this autumn.

"Since day one, he's put his own stamp on it,” Sexton said of Farrell.

"The best thing about him is he hasn't changed one bit from going from assistant to head coach. He's still very popular, even with the lads he doesn't pick. You know, we've been able to bounce back after, how do I put this, after I let myself down when I was taken off against France. That was probably the low point, a real low point for me.

"And, this is a high point but I hope it's not the highest point. He's a very special coach; when you've him, (assistants) Paul O'Connell, Simon Easterby, Catty (Mike Catt) and John Fogarty motivating you during the week it's a pretty special dressing-room to be part of.

"All credit to him, really, for putting it together.

"Roll on the World Cup, that's what we need to focus on next."

Sexton and his team will allow themselves 48 hours to savour their success, the captain said, with the celebrations kicking off inside Aviva Stadium led by a sell-out Irish crowd that roared on their side from before kick-off and throughout an often tense final-round game thanks to a fighting performance from an England side rebounding from a 53-10 record home defeat to France seven days earlier.

“It was an unbelievable atmosphere, very special,” Sexton said. “I’d say we had 98 per cent of the stadium I reckon? It was incredible.

“Fair play to England the way they turned up; They were really good. To bounce back in that fashion speaks a lot about their captain, their coach. They made it tough and we made it tough from ourselves. We will take a lot of learnings out of it I suppose, but for now we might just enjoy it for 48 hours and not worry about it too much.

“These moments don’t happen often. This is the fourth time ever which shows how hard it is. Literally why it is so hard is that every game you ply for your country means so much. 

"So for England coming here today, it means so much to them to come here and spoil the party but also to win for themselves. They put everything into that. And it’s the same every single game. You have to turn up five weeks in a row. And I think we did. I think we were on it today, we just made some silly errors at some crucial times. It made things difficult. But yeah, we won a Grand Slam. It’s pinch yourself stuff.

“You couldn’t make it up really. I said during the week it is the stuff of dreams. And growing up, all you want to do is play for Ireland. 

"I said during the week, I don’t know why but when I was growing up, I always wanted to captain Ireland. And this fella (Farrell) asked me to do it. And probably one of the best days of my life when he did and this day is even better. They’re a great group, great management team and a great bunch of players. And I said in the dressing-room there, this is not the end. There’s plenty more left in this team."

Sexton was asked if would consider playing one more year or if Saturday’s game really was his last Six Nations appearance before retiring after the World Cup later this year.

“No, it’s not the time,” he said. “Today was about us as a team. To finish the campaign, when you set out to achieve something in the campaign and manage to do that, it’s a very special feeling in that dressing-room. And for the moment, let’s enjoy the next 48 hours,. It’s a special group and a special team.

"It was all about the team today, to come away with a Grand Slam was unbelievably special. We need to go and enjoy the next couple of days."

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