Johnny Sexton says Ireland would be ridiculed if they attempted to imitate England by making bold declarations of wanting to be the “greatest team that ever played rugby”.
England head coach Eddie Jones came out with the ambitious statement early last year in the aftermath of a frustrating World Cup final defeat to South Africa.
Jones’ men were beaten by France in their next game but recovered to claim the Guinness Six Nations title and win the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup.
Ireland captain Sexton was relatively coy when asked for specific targets going into this year’s Six Nations, refusing to “go shouting them from the rooftop”.
The 35-year-old, whose side finished third in both competitions entered in 2020, insists his reluctance to make proclamations is purely down to recent results, as opposed to there being contrasting mentalities in the Irish and English camps.
“They’re at a different stage, they’re (Six Nations) champions, they’re World Cup finalists,” Sexton said of England.
“They are statements that we can (maybe) make in a few years – I might not be here when they are making them – but you can’t be saying those things if you’re not even Six Nations champions because people would just laugh at you.
“They have the right to make those statements because they were at a World Cup final, on another day they could have won it, they were Six Nations champions a couple of times over the last few years, so a big difference.
“We need to go and win the championship before we can start talking about becoming the greatest Irish side.
“It’s step by step and we’re not there yet. Fair play to them for doing that.”
Ireland are intent on closing the gap to England and France following an unconvincing first year under head coach Andy Farrell.
Fly-half Sexton, who has been struggling with a hamstring problem, is back in full training and declared himself fit for Sunday’s tournament opener away to Wales.
While Jacob Stockdale, Caelan Doris and Quinn Roux are ruled out of the trip to Cardiff, Jordan Larmour, Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose and Tadhg Furlong are among those to have overcome injury problems to bolster Irish ranks.
Sexton hopes the reinforcements can help Farrell’s men start the championship in style.
“It is a great boost to have all of those names back fit,” he said.
“We haven’t had them enough over the last year. Garry’s had a bad run when you consider the luck that goes with some of the injuries he has had, a broken thumb, a broken jaw twice. That’s just bad luck and it can happen to anyone.
“To have him back and the other guys – Tadhg and Hendy are a big part of our front five – it just gives you more, whether it’s off the bench or starting.
“It’s a good place to be but we’ve got to go out and do the business now to reflect that. It would be terrible if we had all these guys fit and went out and didn’t play great.”
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