Ireland in a good place before All Blacks test
SPOTLIGHT: New Zealand are a daunting challenge for anyone but Ireland approach next Saturday’s Test in good heart having taken a “step forward” in the 60-5 rout of Japan, captain Johnny Sexton said.
The 36-year-old flyhalf capped a memorable 100th Test for his country with a try early in the second half to earn the second of what would be three standing ovations from the 40 000 crowd at Lansdowne Road.
However, as many have commented Sexton would have been dispirited if Ireland’s performance had not been up to his demanding standards.
So his teammates could breathe a sigh of relief with his assessment of their sixth successive victory this year which sets them up nicely to try to beat the All Blacks for a third time in the past five years.
“We have been working on it for a long time and we got a result to go with the performance,” said Sexton.
“We saw glimpses of it last season but today [Saturday] we took a step forward. There are parts we have to get better for next week against the best team in the world.”
Sexton – who scored 16 of Ireland’s points before exiting just after the hour mark – said it would have been understandable if the Irish had been rusty in their first game back together.
“The standard of performance is a testament to the boys and coaches and we got our rewards,” he said.
“I think it has not been done to Japan for a long time and I am very pleased but a bigger test lies ahead.
“That is how we have been trying to play for the past year and we have been taught lessons along the way.”
‘Not a tidy player’
However, Sexton is well aware of how lethal the All Blacks can be, the 46-14 thrashing in the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal a prime example.
“I do not think you are ever confident of beating the All Blacks,” he said.
“We have to get away from the result against Japan and go away and look at the process and performance and an analysis of the All Blacks because if we do not do that we have no chance.
“They have really dangerous players, a good coaching team and good results of late.
“We will give them the respect they deserve and hopefully give the best version of ourselves.”
For head coach Andy Farrell the winning run has vindicated his change of tack towards a more crowd-pleasing running game since he replaced Joe Schmidt after the World Cup.
The 46-year-old former Great Britain Rugby League and England Rugby Union international said he had a coach’s ideal selection headache.
“There is competition right round the park after a performance like that and now we can take our game to New Zealand,” he said.
Farrell was especially pleased by how Ireland’s much-criticised New Zealand-born wing James Lowe had performed. Lowe set the ball rolling with the first try.
“James had a little bit of a wake-up call and maybe was not prepared for the bigger demands of international rugby when he first played,” said Farrell.
“But now his prep is through the roof to what it was before. He has learned the hard way and his attitude is in the right place.
“He is not a tidy player but I don’t mind that with wingers. He has lost weight and is in a great place and I am pleased for him.”
Farrell said despite the six wins, there were still imperfections to iron out.
“We got to six [wins] due to lessons we have learned and we want to make that seven.
“We know it is a tough ask.”