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Peter O'Mahony: How Johnny Sexton 'changed rugby for the better'

By PA
(Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Johnny Sexton insists there is plenty left to come in his distinguished career as he seeks to cap a Guinness Six Nations swansong by guiding Ireland to Grand Slam glory in a cup final against England. Captain Sexton will make his 60th and final appearance of the championship on Saturday when Steve Borthwick’s side arrive in Dublin bidding to ruin the St Patrick’s weekend party.

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The 37-year-old retains aspirations of leading his country into the autumn World Cup in France after which he plans to retire, while a Champions Cup final with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in May also remains a possibility. Sexton talked down the personal significance of the crunch weekend showdown and is hopeful there is a lot more of the journey left.

“This is the last Six Nations game but there is so much ahead, please God, if I stay lucky and avoid injuries,” said the Leinster fly-half, who is poised for his 113th Ireland outing. “There is hopefully a World Cup, there is hopefully some knockout games with Leinster ahead in the Aviva, so I am trying to get away from the fact that it’s this big last thing.

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“It’s just a cup final and that is all we are thinking about. You are playing England at home with something on the line, so it’s always what you have wanted to do and where you wanted to be. It’s not the last game with this team, well I certainly hope not. We have got a lot more of the journey left so I’m not really thinking like that.”

Sexton made his full Six Nations debut in a 2010 victory away to England and has won the competition on three occasions, including the 2018 Grand Slam. Ireland are bidding for a fourth clean sweep overall, albeit a first one secured in Dublin after the 1948, 2009 and 2018 triumphs were clinched in Belfast, Cardiff and London respectively.

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“That is the bit that we spoke about from the start: it has never been done at home,” said Sexton, who moved level with former Ireland teammate Ronan O’Gara as the Six Nations’ all-time leading point scorer by taking his tally to 557 in last weekend’s win in Scotland. “It’s something that we identified very early and said, ‘imagine this happening, imagine having a shot at it at home in front of your family, friends’ and now it’s a big occasion.

“It’s about dealing with that, embracing it and getting a good performance out there that warrants putting us in a position to win the game. I have got a bit more emotional as I have gone on so will definitely be trying to hold that back but use it as well because it will hopefully be a special day.”

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Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony said long-term international colleague Sexton has changed rugby. “I can’t sit here and sum it up for you, it’s been too big a career, too important a career, too long a career to sit here and sum it up in a few words,” said O’Mahony.

“He has changed rugby, changed Irish rugby, obviously for the better. He teaches people what it is like to be a professional, what it is like to be a proper Irishman. All these things add to the occasion. But these are things we have spoken about and everyone has acknowledged and put to one side for 80 minutes.”

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Turlough 3 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

“You want that – not hatred – but whatever it is that stirs it all up. It’s good.” Agree with this. If you can put a common motivating idea in all your players heads during a game it can produce a real Team perfromance. Erasmus is pretty expert at this. It is quite clear that the comments by Etzebeth, Allende and others were not coincidence and were actioned to create animoisty before the series in order to galvanise the South African mind set. While I understand it, I don’t like it. They result in unnessary vitriol between supporters and for what? I don’t think any of the SA players seriously believe any of these claims and with Ireland ignoring them Erasmus won’t get the escalation he seeks. The vitriol shown by some SA and indeed NZ supporters is extremely weird for NH supporters (OK, maybe England have felt it) but it just feels very odd over a sport. Ireland were more or less sh1t for the first 100 years of their rugby, they have improved significantly in the last 25 to be in a position around now (it may not last) to go into a match with the big guns with a real shot of winning. The reaction to this from some SH supporters has been bizarre with conspiracy theories of ‘Arrogance’ fueling abuse from supporters and even NZ players to Irish crowds during the world cup. I love International rugby and the comraderie between supporters. I genuinely dread and dislike the atmosphere around games with the southern giants. They take this very personally. NH teams: play them, try and beat them, enjoy the craic with their players and supporters and wish them well. SH teams wish them well and they call you arrogant in the press months later. Its just a matter of try and beat them and then good riddance til the next time.

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