Johnny Sexton says Wales clash allows Ireland to move on

Captain hopes team have chance to show improvement from Six Nations disappointment

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has defended Jacob Stockdale after the Ulster fullback was criticised for his performance in Ireland's Six Nations defeat to France. Video: VOTN

 

The first and most immediate positive about the upcoming Autumn Nations Cup is that it affords the Irish team an opportunity to right some of the wrongs in Paris last Saturday week. The downside is that the 2020 Guinness Six Nations finale will remain one that got away.

For Johnny Sexton, after his first extended if brief campaign as captain, that will always be the case.

“Ultimately we’re never going to be able to make up for last Saturday. That’s the hard thing about sport. Obviously we want to get better and we want to improve and we want to target this competition and try and win it and then target next year’s Six Nations. It’s one that got away last weekend because we didn’t play to our potential and now everything this week is about playing to our potential.”

Even so, he is more of a mind to look forward to next Friday’s meeting with Wales at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off: 7pm). Despite the 2019 Grand Slam winners and World cup semi-finalists having lost five games in a row, a wounded Ireland will, according to Sexton, be: “playing against a team that is obviously a lot, lot better than the latest results would suggest. They’ve had a couple of tight encounters that haven’t run their way as well so two teams that will be hurting a little bit, or hurting a lot probably and it will be a really tough game come Friday.”

The sudden departure of Wales’ defence coach Byron Hayward, by mutual agreement, in the week of this match after less than a year in Wayne Pivac’s coaching ticket, adds to their current woes. It also compounds the decisions last month by two former captains, Sam Warburton and Ryan Jones, to step down from their roles as technical coach for breakdown/defence and the WRU Performance Director respectively.

Also in the last month Martyn Phillips stepped down as CEO, albeit his decision had been flagged a while ago, while chairman Gareth Davies departed having missed out on re-election.

But despite this apparent disarray, history has taught Sexton to be wary of usually troublesome opponents.

“I think because we know them so well, I know the standard of player that they have and I know the standard of leader that they have in their group, they’ll come out fighting,” said the Irish captain in reference to his counterpart Alun Wyn Jones.

“They’re a good team. You know sometimes you can go through a run of results like they have and you know you’re not that far away but you can’t seem to get it together at key moments.

“So we know the quality of player that they have and the people in their backroom so I’m sure they’ll be much improved this week and we hope we will be too so I’m sure it will be a good game.”

As for the areas Ireland are seeking to improve upon, Sexton admitted: “Where do we start? Everything really. Like I said after the Italy game, we don’t just finish a game and go ‘oh, we weren’t that good in that department, we need to just work at that all week’. We generally look at all areas of our game and try and improve on all. Even if some things go well we still try and improve on it, we always try and find fault with our performance so that’s pretty much what the week has been.

“It’s been very much going through all the parts of our game, you know, set-piece, starter plays, our phase stuff, our attack in their 22; all of that stuff needs to be better than it was last week and our defence needs to better. So every part of our game really.”

Missed opportunities has been the mantra from the Irish head coach and captain since Paris, although repeating this is one thing, rectifying it is another.

“That’s rugby, isn’t it? Sometimes you can go out and you can take all the opportunities you get and you can win by 40 or 50 and everything then is great. And then you go out and create the same opportunities against France and don’t take a lot of them, and everything is terrible.

“If you look at all the top-class international games, and I’ve touched on this, there are a lot of errors in most games and it’s just about who reacts best from them, and who takes more chances than the others. It’s an area we’ve discussed and where our minds are. We’ve discussed the physical things we need to do and ‘what are we thinking there? Why didn’t we do that?’ and doing it together, I think, is the key.”

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