Johnny Sexton: ‘The most special messages I got were from the guys who got the 100 caps’

Sexton, Andy Farrell and Jamie Joseph reflect on Ireland’s dominant win at the Aviva

The occasion lived up to the putative billing, one that heralded Johnny Sexton’s 100th cap, Tadhg Furlong’s 50th and Dan Sheehan’s first as Ireland produced a rip roaring performance to celebrate all three landmarks with gusto in a 60-5 victory: six wins on the bounce to boot for Andy Farrell’s Ireland.

The home side, encouraged by an appreciative crowd, played some cracking rugby too against a Japan side that as head coach Jamie Joseph said afterwards were very disappointed with their performance; he also acknowledged that Ireland "were very, very good."

There were other reasons to luxuriate, individual and collective, on a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon for Irish rugby. Andrew Conway grabbed a hat-trick of tries, three of nine during the 80-minutes, the others coming from James Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Cian Healy and the man of the moment, Johnny Sexton.

Jack Conan won the player-of-the-match accolade for an excellent display but there were several other strong contenders not least scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park, who was outstanding.


Sexton, having had time to catch his breath, offered an insight into the build-up to the match on a personal level. “It’s been a strange week, like. Since the team was announced the amount of messages coming in, I think I spent a record time replying to people yesterday, and things like that, but then I had to remember that I had a game to play.

“We had to try and make sure we got the performance right. There was some good stuff but then a couple of mistakes I would like to iron (out); it’s the first game back and that’s always a little bit rusty. Like. we only had three or four sessions to put out that standard of performance. 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.”

One aspect of Sexton’s performance that might get lost amongst the plaudits, all thoroughly deserved, was his place-kicking. He smiled: “It was a tough wind. I aimed for a post and hoped for the best really. A couple of them worked out and a couple didn’t. The wind didn’t take enough on one of them but that is the life of a kicker.

“It (the weather) was very similar to my first cap. I woke up this morning and saw the trees sideways and thought, (this is) ‘like the first one (cap)’. It was a great day for everybody. I said that to the boys last night, that it is the same for everyone coming into the stadium. It had been two years without being able to watch Ireland live.

“We missed them and they missed it and we wanted to put something on for them that they remembered. I hope we did that.” The reaction of the players, a 14-man pile-on on the captain, and the supporters, a standing ovation, to his try would have unequivocally answered his last sentiment.

He admitted: “It was up there. I said to the lads in the dressing-room that it was one of the best moments of my career. I don’t think Andy Conway came in ‘cause he felt I should have passed the ball to him but it was very special and the crowd at that moment, I’ll remember it forever.

“I’d an incredible day, for myself, for my family, I think every single one of them is here. They’re all up from Kerry. That try in the corner was one of best moments of my career so far, I’ll never forget it.

“I feel a little bit guilty. Over the last two years, guys like Cian Healy won his 100th cap in an empty stadium, Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden retired in an empty stadium so to get today I feel a little bit guilty but I’ll remember this forever, thank you to everyone.”

There was a lovely moment at the end of the match when Sexton was presented with a Samurai sword by Japan captain Pieter Labuschagne. Sexton smiled when asked what he’d do with it: “Keep it away from (my son) Luca; he’ll bash his sisters with it. I’ll put it in pride of place.

“It’s a special day and that’s a special memento to get from an opposition team, that’s very special for me and it will take pride of place somewhere in my house.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was delighted with his team's display, imperfections and all, which he noted briefly but perhaps what may be surprising on a day when Ireland scored nine tries is that aspect of the performance that pleased him most.

He explained: “By a country mile the best part of our performance today was our defence. We didn’t have to do much of it and that is what we wanted but we got the ball back very quickly because we were ready on turnovers.

“They are lethal, Japan, on turnover ball; that’s what they pride themselves on, that and counter attacking. We all know how dangerous they have been.

“I think there is competition all over the park after a performance like that. I thought there were some special individual performances. Jack (Conan) got man of the match but you could have given it to a handful of people.

“The pleasing thing is, as Johnny said, that the first week we came together we worked extremely hard. This week the players really took ownership of what we wanted to achieve. There are some good pictures for us to push forward with for next week against New Zealand as well.” He confirmed that there are no injury worries arising from the match.

Given the day in question it’s appropriate that Sexton has the final word. When asked about whether he had received any special messages he said: “I think the most special messages I got were from the guys who got the 100 caps. They all made an effort to reach out.

“There were some boyhood heroes; Paul McGrath texted me, well messaged me on Instagram actually. I feel like I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be the morning of the game. It’s been a surreal day and a surreal week.”