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Johnny Sexton has rubbished Ireland's current No1 world ranking

By PA
(Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Johnny Sexton has said that Ireland must emulate South Africa in lifting the Webb Ellis Cup before they can truly be regarded as the world’s best. Andy Farrell’s men climbed to the top of the global rankings on the back of their stunning summer series win in New Zealand. Ireland’s status will be given a stern examination on Saturday evening when the formidable Springboks – rugby’s reigning world champions – visit Dublin.

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Captain Sexton admits the achievement puts a target on his Ireland side’s back but dismissed its significance as he insisted lifting silverware is all that matters. “Honestly, it’s not something that we really talk about much,” he said. “It’s not a goal to become number one in the world. That might sound stupid.

“In some sports, it is – golf, tennis – but in rugby the rankings matter once and it’s three years out from the World Cup (when the draw is made), which doesn’t make that much sense either. We don’t speak about being number one. To be number one in the world, you need to win the World Cup, that’s where the goals are.

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“Obviously you want to be the best in Europe, you want to win the Six Nations, those are our goals; it’s nothing to do with being number one and I don’t think many teams read too much into it. I know the other teams will probably refer to us now trying to put pressure on it but we don’t speak about it.”

The tantalising Aviva Stadium clash kicks off Ireland’s autumn schedule, which also includes appointments with Fiji and Australia, and serves as a dress rehearsal for next September’s World Cup pool stage meeting in Paris.

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While Sexton talked down the importance of the world rankings, he expects the Springboks to use it as a motivating factor as they attempt to mess up the hosts. The influential fly-half believes Ireland must surpass the scintillating performances which toppled the All Blacks in order to mastermind another headline-grabbing victory.

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“We have to give them the respect that they absolutely deserve,” the 37-year-old said of three-time world champions South Africa “They are the best team in the world in terms of they are world champions. They are a top-class team. They have obviously won the World Cup, they beat the Lions (in 2021) and had some big results over the last few years so in terms of testing ourselves it’s huge.

“We need to bring our game and make sure we do it even better because when you have a couple of results, like we did in the summer, teams start to properly look at you and they go, ‘How are we going to mess up this Ireland team? How are we going to combat this?’ We have got to do it better and we have got to evolve a little bit and make sure we bring something new to the table.”

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