green giant Johnny Sexton: I want to keep playing as long as I’m fit to do so and as long as I’m enjoying it
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is moving closer to committing himself to the 2023 World Cup and says he’ll hold talks with the IRFU about a new contract after the Six Nations.
Ahead of Saturday’s sold-out opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium, the 36-year-old says he is relishing the challenge of leading the side for a third campaign.
“It was a huge honour to be asked to do it and then every time the call comes in before a campaign, you’re always picking up the phone thinking: ‘Is it going to be the good news or the bad news?’” Sexton said of the captaincy.
“I’ve managed to keep it and I’m very proud to have done it for as long as I have, and I want to keep doing it for as long as I can prove to be the man to do it.
“I will probably sit down (with the IRFU) at the end of the Six Nations. That’s the plan and what I always sort of expected.
“I feel great now, I felt great the last couple of weeks training and the start of the season, but I know that can change.
“My intention is to keep going as long as I’m fit to do so and as long as I’m enjoying it; as long as the people in here want me to. That’s the most important thing for me as well.
“It couldn’t be further from my thoughts at the moment because this first game is everything.
“Other stuff looks after itself.”
Under Andy Farrell, Sexton has led the national team 13 times, winning 10 and suffering defeats to England, France and Wales away.
In particular, he looks at the 2020 loss to France and the fallout after his reaction to being substituted as a major lesson.
“One immediately stands out; I suppose the trip over to Paris,” he acknowledged.
“There were a lot of lessons from that week – before, after and during. But, apart from that, by and large it’s been a pretty positive experience, and, yeah, I’ve loved it; I loved every second of it.
“We didn’t get our prep’ right and a huge responsibility for that is down to the captain.
“We didn’t get our performance right on the day, which probably stems from some of the prep’ and then, obviously, some of the stuff that was written about the reaction when you come off.
“Like I explained at the time, as much of it was the disappointment with myself that I didn’t play as I wanted to, or the team didn’t play as I wanted us to play.
“But you just can’t let your guard down for a split second or a small mistake like that can be magnified into something huge.
“Again, it makes you stronger and it makes you more prepared to try and bounce back and prove people wrong.”
After beating Japan, New Zealand and Argentina in November, Ireland are favourites to beat Wales on Saturday, and many are backing Sexton’s side to make a strong bid for the title.
“We hope more is to come, we’re happy with our performances in November, but they were by no means perfect,” Sexton said.
“A few things came off in that New Zealand game, a few didn’t. Some of the chances we didn’t take, the tries we conceded – when we look back, and we have looked back, we have said there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“So, I don’t think the group feels that we’ve nailed it. We’re striving for a new level and hopefully we see that the next few weeks.”
Defence, Sexton believes, will be the key on Saturday.
“Wales have an attacking system that can really stress you,” he said.
“They play very wide off phase, but they can be really direct early in the game and early in phases as well. They challenge you both ways; physically and fitness-wise. They try and keep the ball in play as well by kicking long.
“The defence was great in November. It didn’t take many of the headlines because I suppose the narrative was around some of the attack, but the thing we pride ourselves on, what we want to show everyone, is our defence.”
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