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Skipper Johnny Sexton insists Ireland haven't gone backwards under coach Andy Farrell

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Jonathan Sexton and head coach Andy Farrell during Ireland Rugby squad training

Jonathan Sexton and head coach Andy Farrell during Ireland Rugby squad training

SPORTSFILE

Jonathan Sexton and head coach Andy Farrell during Ireland Rugby squad training

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has strongly rejected the suggestion that his side have gone backwards under Andy Farrell.

Sexton, who has recovered from a hamstring injury to lead Ireland against Scotland on Saturday, was quick to point to this year's results and compare them to last year, when Joe Schmidt was in charge.

Farrell has come under pressure after a string of disappointing performances, most notably last weekend's laboured second-half display against Georgia.

The IRFU have given their full backing to the head coach, and Sexton also believes that Ireland are moving in the right direction with Farrell at the helm.

"Eh no, well if you look at our results, we've lost twice to England away and to France away, we won the rest of our games," Sexton said, as he dismissed claims that Ireland have regressed in what has been a difficult year.

"So if you're talking about results, which is what Test match rugby is about, if we win on Saturday...there have been plenty of Irish teams in the past that have lost in Twickenham and lost in France.

"Were they games we could have won? Maybe not the first Test game, the second one and the French one, we definitely feel like there's things that we did that got away from us.

"And England were in a World Cup final, they're probably one of the better teams in the world at the moment and we have to get up to that level.

"Are we going backwards? Well, not if you compare it to 2019. To go and compare it to 2018, then obviously, but we went backwards in 2019 - the same team went backwards.

"So we're just saying what we feel. I know you guys don't agree, but we feel like we're progressing and we need to show it and that's where the gap in opinion is, really, that we're getting some big learnings and doing some great things in training, some bits in games where we're talking about playing well against Wales at home.

"But again, in bits and pieces, we need to put out the 80 minute performance with the finishing touches because we feel - and we can show you some video clips if you want of us creating lots of opportunities that we're not finishing - and that's the big learning for us, when there's opportunities at Test level you've got to take them, and when they're as clear cut as the ones we are creating, we have to take them and that's what we feel, you can disagree if you want but that's where we are."

Despite some people having criticised the level of detail under Schmidt, there is a feeling now amongst certain quarters that Farrell has moved too far away from those kinds of important structures, and as a result, Ireland are struggling to adapt to what is a new game-plan.

However, Sexton was again eager to set the record straight.

"No, there's definitely a lot of detail in what we're doing and that's what's getting us into those opportunities that I spoke about," the 35-year old maintained.

"The way we haven't finished those opportunities, if you talk about the amount of time we've had in the opposition 22 and just haven't capitalised, that's us not executing.

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Ireland's Stuart McCloskey in action against Georgia

Ireland's Stuart McCloskey in action against Georgia

PA

Ireland's Stuart McCloskey in action against Georgia

"Sometimes we're seeing it and just not executing, sometimes we're not seeing it and we're just running ourselves into brick walls.

"So it's a mixture of a few things but there's definitely massive improvements we can make in certain areas of our game and sometimes, yeah, look, we'd be the first to admit when you're trying a new sort of shape and a new way of playing, sometimes you can lose sight of the smaller details.

"When you become comfortable with the bigger stuff, the bigger structures, then you can start to concentrate on the small detail.

"I suppose at the start, yeah, we may have got away from it a little bit because we were trying so many things and some new shape stuff, which is the bigger picture, and yeah, we spoke about those finer details that we were so successful with under (Schmidt).

"But I suppose the perfect combination is being able to do both, is to have that detail in and around what we're trying to do and the detail in around the ruck and the breakdown, and things that let us down on Saturday in particular."

Sexton is one of several high profile players out of contract at the end of the season, and while the veteran out-half acknowledged that it was a tricky time with talks stalled until after Christmas, he was keen to point out that everyone has their own issues during the current pandemic.

"The first thing I'd say is I think it's an anxious time for everyone in the world, like, I don't think there's much certainty with anything going on at the moment and we're just in that category at the moment, there's nothing we can do about it,” Sexton added.

"I'm sure the IRFU would have loved to have got their players under contract at the moment, I know they would have liked to have started but they can't because they need to be in a position to know exactly what's going out and to be able to honour those contracts, and we understand that, we've been briefed on it through the players association and it is what it is, it's not ideal from anyone's point of view.

"But, look, it's not the reason why our performances haven't been what we want, that's just excuses and we don't want to make excuses.

"But obviously it's a tough time for a lot of people in the world."

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