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irish legend Johnny Sexton reveals special message from Paul McGrath after ‘surreal week’

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Jonathan Sexton of Ireland acknowledges supporters after the Autumn Nations Series win over Japan. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland acknowledges supporters after the Autumn Nations Series win over Japan. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland acknowledges supporters after the Autumn Nations Series win over Japan. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

It seemed fitting that after Jonathan Sexton’s try-scoring role in thrillingly putting the Japanese to the sword, the humbled but gracious visitors handed him one.

Captain Lappies Labuschagné delivered the ‘katana’ to the centurion, with the Aviva crowd remaining on their feet to salute the visibly emotional Dubliner who had just led Ireland to their sixth successive win.

“It’s a great milestone for Johnny,” said Labuschagné, brandishing a gift which somehow also symbolised how a revitalised, enterprising Ireland had cut his side to shreds.

“It’s something really special and he deserves all the accolades on his 100th test, he’s been a great ambassador for rugby.

“The Samurai Sword is something really special for us. And we wanted to give him something to remember this game and occasion. He’s a great player and he played quite well, not only him but his team-mates.”

Not for the first time in the afternoon, Sexton appeared slightly taken aback as he wielded the present, later revealing it would take pride of his presence in a house already brimming with career mementoes, albeit well away from playful fingers.

“I’ll need to keep it away from Luca because he’ll bash his sister with it! It will get pride of place, it’s special to get something from the opposition,” said Sexton, whose 15th international try in the second-half during the sorry rout prompted a full-on pile-on in the south-east corner.

“It was an incredible day for myself and my family, most of them came up from Kerry as well. That try in the corner was one of the best moments of my career, I’ll never forget the reception I got.

“All 14 players were there, I don’t think Andrew Conway came in because he thought I should pass to him! And then the crowd, I’ll remember it for a long time. But then I had to remember there was still a conversion to come.”

He nailed that, with a fist-pump too, despite the fact that game was long up by then; his contribution to the team effort once again defining his display in an off-loading, attack-minded showing, as well as adding selfless reflections on others who have recently missed out on the raucous Aviva experience.

"There were very special moments throughout the game. Leading out your country for any game is special but to do it today with the crowd…

“I feel a bit guilty because there are guys like Cian Healy who won his 100th cap and then two of my best friends in the game, Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney, who retired in an empty stadium.

“I’m still loving it, thank God. I needed a little luck to get this age playing this game. And I just want to thank my team-mates for putting a lot into the week.

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“All the lads with a hundred caps made the effort to reach out. That meant a lot to me. Obviously some boyhood heroes. Paul McGrath was on Instagram.

“So many, to be honest. Again, I feel like I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be the morning of the game. It’s just been a surreal day and a surreal week.”

His boss Andy Farrell joked that it wasn’t the perfect day for his enduring captain, given the result from Old Trafford.

“It was a brilliant week until the final whistle,” he smiled. And also because the All Blacks now loom large in Irish thoughts.

“We only had three or four sessions to put out that standard of performance,” adjudged Sexton.

“I thought it was a testament to the boys, to the management, to the work that was done this last week to make sure we were ready. We got our rewards in the end.

“I don’t think that’s been done to Japan in a very long time so we are very pleased but know that it will be a bigger test again next week.

“You can never say you’re really confident of beating them because you must look after the performance before thinking about the result. If you don’t do that, you have no chance.

“They have dangerous players and a really good coaching team and we will give them the respect they deserve and try to be our best version of ourselves.”

If it resembles anything akin to that embodied by leader, they have more than a reasonable chance of success.

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