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Sexton's 'freak' Barrett verdict and how ABs have altered defence

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

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Johnny Sexton has saluted his fellow Test centurion Beauden Barrett, describing the All Blacks talisman as an opponent with one particular freak aspect to his game. The 30-year-old Barrett made his 100th Test appearance for New Zealand in their October 30 win over Wales in Cardiff while Sexton matched this centurion milestone when he led Ireland to their comprehensive win over Japan last Saturday. 

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Now the pair of long-serving players are on track to meet each other next weekend in Dublin even though there is the potential that their clash might not be a head-to-head collision due to Richie Mo’unga being in the selection conversation as to who will wear the All Blacks No10 jersey. 

Barrett has come up against Sexton in nine of his All Blacks appearances so far, taking on Sexton with Ireland on six occasions and also facing him three more times during the 2017 Lions tour. The New Zealander has been more successful, the All Blacks winning five and drawing once in those nine encounters, and the 36-year-old Irishman had nothing but the utmost respect when asked on Tuesday to talk about the Dublin-visiting talisman.  

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Why Ireland can beat the All Blacks
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Why Ireland can beat the All Blacks

“He is an outstanding player,” said Sexton about Barrett, who has also been featuring regularly for the All Blacks at full-back. “Whether he plays at ten or 15 he brings his strengths to the game. He is just a freak of a runner and he has got a lot of skills as well with it, a great kicking game out of hand, those kick passes that he can do, that small kicking game that he does for himself or for others. 

“He is a strong guy. He goes to the line well and he picks a good pass so he has got it all really, a guy we are going to have to look out for whether they go with him at ten or Mo’unga. We are not sure at this stage but I would guess Beauden will be in the team somewhere, so he is obviously a threat and one of their biggest strengths.”

Sexton went on to say how familiar much of the threat posed by the All Blacks is, adding how New Zealand assistants Greg Feek and John Plumtree even both coached with Ireland under Joe Schmidt, However, he added there had been a noticeable change in recent times in one particular aspect of play by Ian Foster’s team. “It has,” he said when asked if the All Blacks had changed their defending. “They seem to have put a lot of emphasis on their defence. They have changed. There used to be a soft linespeed on the edges, they wouldn’t come up but they have changed fully now from what we have seen. 

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“They are very aggressive from the outside in and they put you under pressure. Something different to play against compared to the past but there are still a lot of similarities with how good they are off turnover and at the breakdown and some of the key individual threats they have. Some things have changed but others haven’t.  

“It’s the intensity they bring to the game, the physicality,” he added about the main threat posed by Foster’s side. “By intensity I mean the speed they play at and at the same time being physical. We know what is coming because we have played against them so many times but there are a few lads that haven’t played against them so we have to fill them in and let them know what it is like out there against them. 

“And look, all the focus is on making sure we can get our best performance out there at the weekend. We know what quality they possess, we know their coaches quite well having been coached by Greg Feek and John Plumtree before, we know the strengths they are going to bring. We just have to make sure we were in the best place possible come Saturday.”

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