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'England will be a good barometer when it comes to it, how much we have improved'

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Johnny Sexton is hoping Ireland can welcome defending champions England to Dublin on March 20 with the Guinness Six Nations title still up for grabs and offering every incentive for Andy Farrell’s team to show they really can fight it out with Eddie Jones’ bullies. 

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England have battered Ireland in the past four encounters, winning Six Nations and World Cup warm-up games by respective 32-20 and 57-15 at a time when Joe Schmidt was coach and Rory Best captain. 

That pattern didn’t change in 2020 after assistant coach Farrell succeeded Schmidt, Ireland losing  24-12 and 18-7 in Six Nations and Nations Cup games at Twickenham where England strangled the life out of the Irish to leave the results effectively settled by the interval. 

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Chris Ashton’s first media conference as a Worcester player

Sexton, who was skipper for last February’s Six Nations loss in London, claimed England are not yet in the Irish crosshairs but he admitted next March’s latest meeting will tell much about Ireland’s progress under Farrell who last week named a 36-man squad for the tournament.

“It’s probably the one team we haven’t thought about at all because they are last, they are our last game. We have got a massive game first up against Wales and then we will focus on France,” he said. 

“But yeah, it will be a good barometer when it comes to it, how much we have improved. Hopefully for us now our focus is making sure that game against England that there is something on the line and there is something to play for.

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“That is where we were last year against France, to play for the championship and we didn’t turn up on the day and we want to put that right.”

In more ways than one. That 35-27 October defeat, a losing margin massaged by some late consolation scores, was the match where huge questions were raised about Sexton’s suitability to captain Ireland.

When substituted, he exhibited a fit of pique when looking up to the coaches’ box from the sidelines and it ignited a campaign which suggested up-and-coming forward James Ryan was the better long-term bet to be the Irish skipper.  

Sexton, though, held on to the responsibility and he is hoping to build on a record where Ireland won five of the seven matches in 2020 that he was captain for. Always an honour, always a privilege to get asked to do it,” he enthused. 

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“It was always a case of let’s take it campaign by campaign. Very, very proud to do it again and looking forward to it. I have learned a lot over the first year doing it and I hopefully will be better for it going forward into this campaign.”

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'England will be a good barometer when it comes to it, how much we have improved'

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