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One aspect of Ireland's win left Sexton scratching his head

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Johnny Sexton admitted in the aftermath of Saturday’s win by Ireland over the All Blacks that he was left dumbfounded by the interval scoreline in Dublin. The Irish captain’s team had dominated the first half in terms of possession (70 per cent) and territory (73 per cent), forcing the visitors to make a whopping 160 tackles compared to a meagre 37 from the hosts. 

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However, despite also seeing the All Blacks reduced to 14 players for ten minutes with the yellow carding of Codie Taylor for a high shot on Sexton, Ireland headed down the tunnel at the break trailing 5-10, the type of missed opportunity scoreline that in the past would have resulted in heads dropping in the dressing room.

Instead, Ireland came out brawling at the start of the second half, pulling level four minutes and then vaulting into a 51st-minute lead they were never to lose en route to a deserved 29-20 win over the All Blacks, their third success in their last five matches against the New Zealanders. 

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“I thought we played some great stuff in the first half,” enthused Sexton as the dust settled on the Ireland victory. “I don’t know how we went in 10-5 down at half-time. We were brave with some of our calls. In hindsight maybe the first penalty I wanted to take three but they had just got a sin bin and the pack wanted to have a go. 

“Then they were accumulating penalties and we said, ‘Let’s go again, another penalty and they get a sin bin and we maybe get a try’. 

“We weren’t clinical in the first half but fair play, this team has worked a hell of a lot on our mental side of the game and to bounce back and to come again is testament to the management and the leadership group and the players themselves to be clinical in the second half. Previously we would have said we didn’t take our chances and we would have not given up of course but we would have just put the heads down a bit, but we kept pounding away and we got our rewards.”

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It was Ireland’s seventh win on the bounce since the February loss of two games at the start of the Six Nations, their worst start to the championship since 1998. “Belief comes from looking across and when you trust your teammates to prepare well and you trust that they are going to show up on the big day, that is where belief comes,” explained Sexton about the change in fortunes they are now enjoying. 

“We didn’t have that (belief) because we haven’t done it consistently enough as a team last year. Six Nations, we got off to a bad start but we have regrouped and there is the belief now that if we can play our best we can get good results. That belief is there now.”

Ireland will wrap up their Autumn Nations Series next weekend with the visit of Argentina to Dublin before beginning the 2022 Six Nations with the arrival of defending champion Wales at Aviva Stadium.  

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