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Two ex-All Blacks fed into Sexton's decision to sign one last deal

By PA
(Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Veteran Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is determined to “go out at the top” after revealing regrets of former players helped convince him to prolong his career until the end of the 2023 World Cup. The 2018 world player of the year intends to retire following next year’s tournament in France having ended speculation about his future by agreeing one final contract extension with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).

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Leinster fly-half Sexton, who has won 103 caps for his country, will be 38 by the time of that competition and vowed to “attack the last 18 months” of his playing days. He also referenced New Zealand World Cup winners Richie McCaw and Brad Thorn as inspirational figures who excelled long after their 30th birthdays.

I will finish at the 2023 World Cup; I’m delighted to be able to say it. I have been beating around the bush for six months, always nervous talking about the World Cup when you weren’t guaranteed to be there,” said Sexton.

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“I just want to make the most of this last 18 months of my career and I want to go out at the top and that’s up to me now, to work hard and get the body and mind in the best shape possible and attack the last 18 months.

“I’m still very driven to get there and perform at the World Cup. One of the biggest factors for me was that I’d spoken to a lot of guys that have finished in the game and they have big regrets over the World Cups and I have a chance now to do that.”

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Sexton, who is preparing for Saturday’s Ireland showdown against Guinness Six Nations title rivals England, said new contract negotiations were sorted in just a “couple of conversations” with the IRFU. The 36-year-old made his international debut against Fiji in November 2009 and has previously represented Ireland at three World Cups, in 2011, 2015 and 2019.“You’re always looking for different things and you dabble in different things,” he replied when asked about keeping himself in top condition.

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“I’ve played with a lot of guys that went out at the top of their game. People that have won a World Cup, like Richie McCaw and Brad Thorn. I played with Brad and took a lot from him. Closer to home then, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll. All these guys played to a similar age, so you take bits from all of them: Peter Stringer, Donnacha O’Callaghan. 

“It’s a long list, so it’s not like I’m the first person ever to do it. I’m just very hungry to stay in the international setup. I don’t want to go out with a whimper. I hope to keep proving my worth. I’m just delighted to keep the dream going, as they say.”

Ireland, who suffered defeat to Grand Slam-chasing France in between wins over Wales and Italy, travel to London knowing defeat will eliminate the loser from the title race. England head coach Eddie Jones has already installed the Irish as favourites for the round-four clash and, while that is a well-rehearsed tactic for the Australian, on this occasion, the bookmakers agree.

Sexton swiftly dismissed the significance of Jones’ comments as he focuses on attempting to lead Ireland to only a second Twickenham win since 2010. “We don’t really care about favourites,” he said. “It’s irrelevant really. We obviously haven’t won that many times over the years there but that’s not to say we can’t do it this time.

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“It’s really down to this game and who can get their best performance out there. All our prep has been focused on doing that, realising the task that is at hand with the atmosphere that is going to hit us and the intensity that they will bring to the game, and preparing to try and play our best under severe pressure and conditions. It’s a great test for us and we’ll see if we’ve learned lessons from the French game and if we can adapt and play better in an away stadium.”

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