Sexton believes Ireland can win the Six Nations
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: Irish captain Johnny Sexton believes Ireland have enough fire-power to win the Six Nations.
Speaking to the press Sexton said it will be tough to secure a bonus point win against France in Paris next weekend that will assure them of the Six Nations title but “if anyone can do it, we can”
Ireland claimed a thumping 50-17 win over Italy at Lansdowne Road on Saturday with the 35 year old flyhalf scoring 18 points to set up a thrilling last game in the final weekend of rugby in the Northern Hemisphere.
However playing to an empty stadium – due to COVID-19 protocols – had Sexton admitting that he and his teammates had to go out and create “their own energy” but that didn’t seem to transfer into the singing of the National Anthems.
“I mimed most of it, it is very strange hearing yourself sing,” said Sexton, who cast a quizzical look at the team-mate beside him after the first of Ireland’s two anthems.
He was, however far happier with what took place on the field – even if the background crowd noise was piped and one of his passes was picked off for an intercept try.
“France are an outstanding team and we have our work cut out,” he said. “However, if anyone can do it [a bonus point win] we can.”
However, with England all too likely to register a bonus point win in Rome against the Italians who haven’t registered a single point as of yet, the Irish need to score four tries of their own for a bonus point win to pip England at the post for the title.
Meanwhile, the French are equally determined that they can win the title being just one point adrift of Ireland, as are England, in an intensely closely fought competition this year.
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Andy Farrell, Ireland’s Head Coach believes that defence is the key to winning the title.
“If we defend like we did for most parts of the game we give ourselves a chance of achieving that,” said Farrell.
“It is great to take momentum into next week. The French have a fantastic squad and it is an unbelievable task to go and win there.
“We have rebooted our campaign and we have taken ourselves into the last week with a chance of winning the title and that is all you can ask for.”
Sexton and Farrell were more than pleased with the Irish performance on Saturday and not even a sloppy opening to the second half when Ireland found themselves still one try adrift of the four needed for the bonus point win could dampen Farrell’s enthusiasm.
“Look, games never go according to plan and you always have to be patient,” he said.
“You cannot expect it to flow in the second half and the floodgates to open. I loved how we were patient and corrected our mistakes.”
Both captain and coach praised the Test debuts of Leinster duo, wing Hugo Keenan and flank Will Connors.
Both scored tries with Keenan becoming the first Irish player since Dave Kearney back in 2013 against Samoa to score a brace.
Connors however stood out enough with his tireless work rate and the sheer physicality of his tackling to be named man of the match.
Even in an empty stadium Keenan said that scoring those two tries were “the stuff of dreams” and came within a whisker of scoring a third which was unfortunately ruled out due to an infringement by James Ryan.
Although the Irish now have their tails up the 24 year old admits that cracking the French defense is going to be another thing entirely.
“It is a huge ask as it is such a tough place to go,” he said.
“However, coming off that performance will give us a lot of belief. We will give it a good crack next week.”
Although the Italian coach Franco Smith, believed his side to be “undercooked” going into the game he still felt the youngsters he blooded will be the better for it.
One of the debutants, flyhalf Paolo Garbisi – who incidentally is 15 years younger than Sexton – scored a brilliant solo try right at the death.
“Now he knows what test rugby is like,” said Smith.
“He handled the pressure well and never lost his cool despite some kicks going astray. He will go on from here.”