Intensity of first start against All Blacks made Johnny Sexton vomit
Ireland outhalf relishing another cut off world’s top side in November
Johnny Sexton revealed that he vomited at half-time of the autumn international against New Zealand in 2010 due to the intensity of the first half. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ireland play four Tests in November but there’s no doubt that the New Zealand game supersedes all others in terms of anticipation, pitting the number one team against their closest pursuers in the world rankings. It applies not only to the supporters but the players.
Beating the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016 provided Ireland with a first victory in the history of fixtures between the countries and it’s an achievement that Joe Schmidt’s side will be seeking to replicate next month, but the magnitude of the task is perfectly illustrated in a story that Johnny Sexton shared on a day to announce his role as a brand ambassador for Mace.
Winning his 10th cap and starting his first match against New Zealand at the Aviva stadium eight years ago – he had come on as a replacement against the All Blacks in New Plymouth that summer – he offered an insight into the ferocity of the physical challenge in a match that Ireland lost 38-18.
“I vomited at half-time,” something he had never done before or since. “It was just an incredible pace to the game, just every collision was ferocious. Every collision was like the first collision of the game. That was my first time playing against them and it was an eye-opener. Our levels of fitness now and our levels of preparation have gone up a lot since then.
“So it’s a great challenge, a lot of us now have beaten them a couple of times [a reference to winning in a Lions jersey too] and we want to do it again.
“We’ve never beaten them in Ireland, so it would be pretty special to be on the first Irish team to beat them here. As players we need to concentrate on the first couple of games [against Italy and Argentina] but at the same time it’s going to be a pretty special occasion.”
Sexton has a single New Zealand jersey at home. It belongs to Beauden Barrett. He explained the context. “I don’t know him really that well, I spoke to him after we played in Chicago and that was the only time I’ve ever swapped jerseys with the All Blacks. He’s a nice guy.
“We didn’t go into each other’s changing room. Someone said it to someone on the way out, and he said ‘yeah’, and I went out to him and we swapped. It was a nice moment; it’s good to have an All Blacks jersey in my house. There were a few things where they refused to swap jerseys for different reasons, so I never really wanted to put myself in that situation.
“They probably have people they need to give it to, there are probably different reasons they want to keep it. That was the only one I have, and look, he’s a nice guy, World Player of the Year the last two years in a row; he’s the guy to catch.”
The IRFU confirmed this week that Joe Schmidt will make a decision by the end of the year about whether or not he’ll stay on after his contract expires following the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Sexton would like to see Schmidt remain in the role while acknowledging that the New Zealander will do what’s best for him and his family.
“I think, as players, we hope that he stays, but he’s done an incredible job. I have worked with him since 2010/11 and the success that he has brought to us with Leinster to get to the six finals in three years and then to go and win three [Six Nations] championships; it’s been a special time, a lot of that has been down to him and we have still got more to go.
“We all know the standards that are set. You look at teams that are successful. The All Blacks, they develop standards and then the senior players along with whoever is new, they try and drive the same standards. That’s what we will try and do if he does leave. Whoever takes over, you know, will get with the senior players and say ‘how are we going to do this?’ and we have to make sure that we do that.
“No matter what way you look at it, he’ll be a loss in some way. I think he is the best around.”
Familiarity certainly hasn’t bred staleness from Sexton’s perspective and he attributes that to the fact that Schmidt and his acolytes in the Irish coaching cadre ensure that the national side’s patterns of play never stop evolving.
“The reason I think he is one of the best trainers is that he seems to improve every campaign. I am looking forward to November already in terms of something new that we are going to do, whether it’s something new in training, something new from a preparation or mental point of view, something new in terms of a gameplan; there will always be something new.
“And it’s the same with the other coaches. Faz [Andy Farrell] will have something new in defence. That’s the best thing about them, they drive continuous improvement. I am excited about it already. I don’t think I have learnt everything [I can from Schmidt].”
The All Blacks match will be the last game against southern hemisphere opposition prior to next year’s World Cup and given the draw – Ireland, if they emerge from their pool, will face either New Zealand or South Africa in a quarter-final – next month represents an opportunity to lay down a marker.
“If things go well in the pool, we could have a game against South Africa. But that could go either way and we could end up playing them [New Zealand] in the quarter-finals. So it’s important that we’re able to match them.
“We don’t worry about results generally, we always just talk about our performances and if we can perform against them, hopefully it will leave us in with a chance of getting the right result.”
November 17th can’t come quickly enough for all concerned.