VIDEO: Sexton targets 'five-game winning run'
WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: Ireland star Johnny Sexton believes a stunning World Cup defeat by Japan could yet prove to be a “blessing in disguise” because it took place during the group stages.
Flyhalf Sexton missed Saturday’s shock in Shizuoka with a thigh injury and could only watch helplessly as tournament hosts Japan won 19-12 to throw Pool A wide open.
But the playmaker, who featured in Ireland’s dominant opening 27-3 win over Scotland at Japan 2019, took heart from the fact that his side can still get their World Cup campaign back on track.
Sexton contrasted Ireland’s current position with the past two World Cups, where they eased through the pool phase only to suffer quarter-final defeats by Wales and Argentina in 2011 and 2015 respectively.
“The only blessing in disguise is that in the last two World Cups I’ve been involved in, we’ve not cruised through the group, but we’ve had everything go our way in the pool stages,” Sexton told reporters in Kobe on Sunday.
“And then we’ve had the day we had yesterday (Saturday) in the quarter-final. And we’d be going home today.
“So the great thing now is that we’ve got the rest of the pool to get things together.
Matters are still in Irish hands, Sexton said, if they can win their last two games against Russia and Samoa and score a healthy number of tries.
Ireland need “two big performances” to get to the knockout stages. “And we know that if we can get there, we’ve got a chance.”
Sexton added Joe Schmidt’s men had a proven ability to bounce back from defeat, noting that Ireland had been battered 57-15 by England and then beaten Wales twice before impressing in their opening World Cup win against Scotland.
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“We’ve responded really well in terms of the other recent setbacks,” he said.
“A five-game winning run now would be great, that would do nicely.”
Sexton, who expects to be fit to face a Russia side unlikely to trouble the Irish, said he understood why he had not been risked against Japan.
After suffering a strain against Scotland, he could not train fully on Monday and Tuesday, meaning “the preparation time was so short the guys made the decision for me to sit this one out.”
“You want to play every game but hopefully I can pay back the squad this week and next week too.”
Connacht centre Bundee Aki could be recalled in place of the concussed Chris Farrell, although veteran fullback Rob Kearney has passed a head injury assessment (HIA).
“Chris Farrell has a confirmed concussion, so he won’t recover in time for Thursday,” said Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby.
“Rob Kearney passed his HIA two so he’s in that process.
Meanwhile, Ireland have summoned back-row forward Jordi Murphy to Japan after Jack Conan was ruled out of the rest of the World Cup with a broken foot.