Sexton’s biggest match looms; Ireland on the brink of qualification in Geneva

The Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the Rugby World Cup with The Irish Times sports team

Ireland players during training at the Stade de Geneva ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifier against Switzerland. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Ireland players during training at the Stade de Geneva ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifier against Switzerland. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

The clock is ticking. Johnny Sexton’s stellar career may have reached some serious heights already but there is no doubting that this Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final meeting with the All Blacks is the biggest match of his career. Sexton was overlooked for the meeting with Wales in 2011 and missed out through injury against Argentina four years ago. Now he faces into a make-or-break tie with the back-to-back world champions and the Irish outhalf and current World Player of the Year has no illusions of just how big this is. “You feel it straight away. You feel it when you wake up this morning and your mind just goes straight to the game. So sleep will probably be a challenge this week,” he told Gerry Thornley yesterday. Ireland’s key man was in good spirits yesterday as he undertook media duties alongside video analyst Vinny Hammond with the two men recalling their first trip to Japan as 16-year-olds with St Mary’s College when they took on Wesley of New Zealand. “We arrived in here at midnight and I think the next morning at like half-seven we kicked off or something. We kicked off against Wesley College from New Zealand. So, we were facing the haka at half seven in the morning! We got absolutely pumped. It was a disaster,” laughed Hammond.

As the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis continues to be felt across Japan with the death toll now at 66, it seems strange that something as trivial as the Rugby World Cup is still going on but that’s where we’re at and, as Gerry Thornley writes, the Japanese team are certainly doing all they can to unite the country and lift the spirits of a nation. Last week Wirld Rugby’s contingency plans were shown up for being fairly lacking despite having years to prepare for this eventuality. While the cancellation of three games may not have a huge financial impact on a tournament like the Rugby World Cup, Ruaidhrí Croke writes that for smaller events, particularly in a country like Ireland, cancellation can lead to big issues. Indeed Japan now face into their toughest task yet as they meet South Africa in the quarter-finals on Sunday. Keith Duggan went along to the Springbok media duties yesterday and writes that there is certainly a feeling of revenge in the air for the upset the Brave Blossoms caused in Brighton four years ago. Don’t forget you can follow all of the build-up to Japan with columns, analysis, news, interviews, stats, fixtures and much more on our dedicated 2019 Rugby World Cup site. And if all this World Cup fever has you in the mood for big time rugby, our travel column this week has details on how to get to Ireland’s Six Nations clash with France in Paris next March for less than ¤200 including a match ticket.

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