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change in approach Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is driving a new bullish attitude towards the next Rugby World Cup

Sexton has been involved in the last three World Cups, so no doubt the Ireland captain has been central to this change in approach

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Johnny Sexton: 'We’ve got to shift our focus into performance, it’s something that this management team has been great at.' Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton: 'We’ve got to shift our focus into performance, it’s something that this management team has been great at.' Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Johnny Sexton: 'We’ve got to shift our focus into performance, it’s something that this management team has been great at.' Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Last week, when Andy Farrell named his Ireland squad for the upcoming November Tests, it didn’t go unnoticed that the World Cup was mentioned prominently in his press release.

In this country, we have become so accustomed to players and coaches telling us ad nauseam how they are ‘next-game focused’ and are ‘not looking too far ahead’.

Farrell’s remarks were particularly interesting therefore, with the 2023 World Cup still two years away.

So when Johnny Sexton addressed the media yesterday and doubled down on the idea, it was made clear there had been a significant shift in the mindset of the squad.

Given Ireland’s repeated failure to make it beyond the quarter-final stages something had to change, but time will tell whether addressing the bigger picture earlier than ever will have any material impact by the time the big dance rolls around.

Sexton has been involved in the last three World Cups, so no doubt the Ireland captain has been central to this change in approach.

As a nation, we have always been better suited to playing on the underdog status, and while this Ireland team have a long way to go before getting any lofty notions, they are not shying way from the bigger picture.

Part of the reason behind openly addressing the World Cup at this early stage is there is a plethora of young talent emerging, and they are helping to drive the focus, along with veterans like Sexton.

“There is a difference already because we have mentioned the World Cup two years out,” Sexton explained.

“We have sort of put it on the radar whereas we have never done that before as long as I have been involved. It has always been that we talked about the World Cup in the summer previous.”

Ireland will begin their on-field preparations today for the upcoming games against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina, with Farrell set to have a much better idea of where he stands with his squad by the end of November.

From Sexton’s point of view, it’s about embracing the tough tests that lie ahead, whilst also keeping the bigger picture in mind and not relying on being the underdog.

“That’s always been our challenge, hasn’t it, as long as I’ve been alive? I’ve watched Irish teams through the years and it’s always been the same,” Sexton insisted. “I think once you focus on your performance, that’s the key driver.

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“If you are favourites for a game you’ve got to focus on your performance even more because you know that when you’re favourites if you play to your potential you win the game. Again, we’ve got to shift our focus into performance, it’s something that this management team has been great at, it’s something that Joe Schmidt was brilliant at as well, getting the performance right and everything else looks after itself.

“It’s just that consistency we’ve spoken about for years and the times we’ve had success is when we’ve had that. Hopefully we can get it back.

“We’ve had, I suppose, in the last five results which have gone our way, we’ve done well and we want to continue the run now and just keep building and keep improving.”

Ireland have put five straight wins together and they will be expected to extend that to six against Japan next week before the All Blacks arrive in Dublin.

Throughout a wide-ranging discussion with Sexton, one word that kept coming up was “consistency”, with the 36-year-old laying out the scale of the challenge that lies ahead over the coming weeks.

“You mentioned results there and I’m not even talking about results,” the 99-times-capped out-half added.

“We’ve won our last five games but it is about the quality of performance.

“Will it be hard? Yeah, a lot of guys could be undercooked, a lot of guys have only just come back off the Lions and played a couple of games with their clubs.

“Normally we have interpros and big European games, a block of maybe six games, seven or eight, before November.

“We haven’t had that and we are playing against teams that are battle-hardened, so it will be a challenge but we have to set our standards high and expect performances of ourselves.

“We have proved over the Six Nations that we have big performances in us but we need to make sure that they are across the three games.”

After an inconsistent Six Nations, a younger Ireland squad beat Japan and the USA over the summer, but as the big guns return Farrell is mindful of what is coming down the line.

Acknowledging the World Cup from two years out is all well and good, but it must be part of a tangible change in order to ensure the same mistakes are not made from now until France 2023.

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