Why Ireland can't claim to be among world's best
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: Ireland would be “laughed at” if they claimed to be among the best teams in the world, said captain Johnny Sexton.
The 35-year-old flyhalf believes England have earned the right to be classed in the elite due to being 2019 World Cup finalists and winning last year’s Six Nations title.
Sexton was responding to England hooker Jamie George’s claim that his side “are up there with the best in the world”.
Sexton will begin his 12th Six Nations campaign on Sunday, leading out an Irish team seeking their first win over Wales in Cardiff since 2013.
Ireland did reach the top of the world rankings in September 2019 – largely based on their outstanding results in 2018 – before an underwhelming World Cup campaign reflected how far they had gone off the boil.
“They [England] are at a different stage to us,” said Sexton.
“They are the defending champions and World Cup finalists.
“Those are the statements we can make in a few years, maybe I won’t be here then.
“You cannot do it at the stage we are at – we would be laughed at.
“We need to go and win the championship before talking about being the best Irish side. Fair play to England for doing that.”
Sexton said, like all Ireland’s rivals, the ambition is to win the Six Nations title – the last time they did so was with the 2018 Grand Slam.
“You don’t come into camp thinking third will be grand,” he said.
The 2018 World Player of the Year said several factors can play a role in being crowned champions.
“A good start definitely helps,” he said.
“There have been campaigns when something clicks due to a new player coming in which gives a fresh lease of life.
“Or even a fresh face in the coaching set-up, it has been the case over the years.
“Also the smallest margins can make or break a campaign, the bounce of the ball going your way for a score.
“Sometimes it is luck, though you can make your own luck.”
‘Side of the bed’
Sexton admits even with so many Six Nations campaigns under his belt the nerves as another approaches have not diminished.
“It definitely has not changed,” he said.
“I was only thinking to myself today how has it not got easier, in many ways it has got worse.
“But that is what is great about the Six Nations – the hype, the pressure, what you can achieve for your country.
“It is what I will miss when I finish even if it is tough going at times.”
Sexton says he enjoys the extra responsibility being captain since he was appointed by head coach Andy Farrell following Rory Best’s retirement after the 2019 World Cup.
“I would hate not to be doing, that’s the right way of putting it,” he said.
“I just try and enjoy it which is easier said than done.
“But at the end of the day I would miss the pressure, the nerves, that extra level of adrenaline in preparation which drives you to do a bit more in practice.
“I try and harness the extra responsibility in the right way.”
As to whether the years have mellowed him, he has at times been accused of being openly grumpy on the pitch, he said that was hard to answer.
“It depends what time you ask me and which side of the bed I got out of that morning,” he said.