Sexton eyes England scalp as marker for future
REACTION: Ireland captain Johnny Sexton says he wants to round off the Six Nations campaign by beating England to reflect the progress he feels they are making under coach Andy Farrell.
Sexton was speaking after his late penalty sealed a 27-24 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield to give Ireland a crucial win and dash the hosts’ dreams of the title.
However, the 35-year-old flyhalf said beating England would be even more of a statement about where the Irish are, as they have yet to beat one of the “top teams.”
Since Farrell took over from Joe Schmidt following the 2019 World Cup the Irish have lost twice to both England and France.
England will come to Dublin next Saturday with the wind in their sails after an impressive win over France which was the perfect reply to their previous heavy defeat by Grand Slam chasing Wales.
“We feel that we have been building, that we were a bit unlucky in the first couple of games,” said Sexton.
“But even though they [England] have had a couple of bad results they are a team that was in the World Cup Final and won the title last year.
“They won the year-end Nations Cup so they are a top, top team and we have to prove we can put in a performance that can beat one of the top teams because we haven’t done that as of yet.”
Sexton joked his penalty was not his best kick of the match – “the one that came back off the post [a conversion attempt] was the best one” – but added Ireland had to be better at putting games away.
They looked home and dry when they led 24-10 with just over 20 minutes remaining but the Scots stormed back to score two converted tries and draw level.
“If you have a 14-point lead in international rugby, the next moment is the most important one and you can put a statement down,” he said.
“Top teams, I think, take the kick-off and clear their lines and then they put pressure on again.
“We’re just short of that at the moment.”
Farrell heaped praise on Sexton for his nerveless penalty kick.
“To be fair to Johnny, he was cramping in that last five or 10 minutes as well,” said Farrell.
“To step up to the plate and kick a goal in that sort of state makes the three points even better.”
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🗣”It would take down a few teams mentally, but they refocused”
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 14, 2021
‘Foot on the throat’
For Farrell it was a big win coming after Ireland had come out the wrong side of two narrow defeats to Wales and France before a thumping of hapless Italy helped boost confidence a fortnight ago.
The 45-year-old Englishman said he had been proud of the character shown by his team in the manner they stuck to their task.
“I suppose my overriding feeling is one of pride really,” he said.
“Obviously for them [the Scots] to get the seven points to draw the game, it would take down a few teams mentally.
“They stayed together, they re-focussed, they re-grouped, great kick-off, good chase, good pressure and they stayed next-moment-focused.
“We got the turnover and big players, that’s what they do, they take responsibility.”
Scotland will have to lick their wounds and focus on hosting Italy on Saturday and more than likely without their playmaker Finn Russell.
Coach Gregor Townsend said he had a concussion and six days makes it a tough ask for him to clear the return to play protocols.
Townsend said the Irish deserved their victory as they “led for most of the match”.
Scottish captain Stuart Hogg said defeat “really, really hurt” coming a month after they also lost narrowly to Wales at home.
However, the fullback said the lessons of the match were clear.
“We have to have our foot on the throat from the very beginning and not be chasing matches,” he said.
“We know we can but the annoying thing is we have to wait for next week to put that into action.”