Johnny Sexton is making this captaincy lark look easy-peasy. Two wins from two over the past two Saturdays have got Ireland off to flyer in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and so confident is he with the pep in his step, he even took a moment in the wake of the win over Wales to admonish some of the spin published recently about life under Joe Schmidt compared to his successor Andy Farrell.
There were some damning ‘culture of fear’ commentary in midweek in the build-up to round two, allegations that suggested life under Schmidt wasn’t a whole load of laughs and that the Schmidt way had essentially been consigned to the bin.
Not so insisted Sexton who, after scoring all 19 of Ireland’s points in the 19-12 opening-round win over Scotland, allowed some team-mates get in on the scoring act versus the Welsh, the out-half accounting for just four of his team’s total in a convincing 24-14 bonus point triumph where the result flattered the visitors as they tacked on a consolation seven points with the clock in the red.
There had been much handwringing about how Ireland collapsed in 2019, going from being sumptuous Grand Slam champions and a win over New Zealand the previous year to a mid-table championship rabble who couldn’t rediscover their power and their poise to stave off a miserable World Cup where they were ambushed by Japan and then buried by the vengeful All Blacks.
However, diluting the largely positive influence that Schmidt had on the Irish scene during his six-year tenure wasn’t something Sexton was buying from anyone when seated to the right of Farrell post-match at the Aviva and basking in the warm glow of a second successive 2020 championship win.
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Wayne Pivac and Alun Wyn Jones after Wales’ defeat in Dublin
“Look, we’re trying to look forward,” he said. “We’re trying to draw a line under last year, even under 2018, and we’re trying to build, we’re trying to develop something new and we’re trying to do things slightly differently.
“In saying that, some of the messages that have come out from our camp haven’t been taken the way it should be. You know, we have taken a lot of want Joe has done over the last few years and we have built on it and we have added bits to it and to suggest that we have just thrown away everything is wrong.
“We have got a good balance. We have really improved in some areas and we have changed the way we do things which you have to do. You have to develop and adapt, but some of the messages that have gone out haven’t been entirely accurate.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 8, 2020
Still, Sexton was quick to laud the dismissal of the Welsh as Ireland’s best performance since the giddy heights of their stellar 2018, paying tribute to the creative influence the back three are particularly now bringing to the mix.
“Yeah (it’s the best), it wouldn’t be hard after last year. It was brilliant. It had a bit of everything. It had some of the stuff that we spoke about last week that we didn’t get to put out there against Scotland.
“When you get the ball in our back three’s hands something can happen and they showed that. They stuck to the tactics really well in terms of when we got on the edge the temptation was always to run, but they got us field position at times brilliantly.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 5, 2020
“Some of our shape stuff was really good, what we have been working on. And we won. That is the most important thing for us, winning. We’re building momentum now but obviously our biggest challenge is ahead in a couple of weeks’ time (the February 23 visit to England).
“Wales are Grand Slam champions, World Cup semi-finalists for a reason. They are a top-quality team and they are hard to play against. We were going to have to one [a performance] up there like we were today, but it’s away from home and it’s against a team that were Cup finalists and will be hurting from last week.
“Top quality side and the last two times we played England they have given us a right old spanking. We need to up our game from those level of performances. It is a tough place to go, Twickenham. We haven’t too many victories there over the years.”
It's been all sweetness and light heading into this round two encounter in Dublin https://t.co/AKTg7YkbWO
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 8, 2020
Expect Sexton to have a mighty say in trying to change that pattern, just like he did against the Welsh. Ireland had only beaten Wales just once in the last five Six Nations meetings and his Friday night players only meeting certainly set the tone for that sequence to change.
“What was talked about last night was really what the coaches had given to us over the last week and it was just putting the responsibility on ourselves to deliver that. We felt that we didn’t do that last week to the best of our ability and we talked about why that wasn’t the case.
“It was just about fixing up those little bits that would allow us to get into the game and show some of the stuff that we had been working on. That was really it. There is some motivational stuff that you try and get across and we wanted to show that, what it means to play for Ireland.
“We didn’t get a chance to do that last week either really because when it is a stop-start game, you don’t get to celebrate tries and stuff. We got a bit of everything today which is great.”
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