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What Ireland really make of the 'big reputations' Wales are missing

By PA
(Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

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Johnny Sexton insists there is “not one ounce of complacency” in the Ireland camp ahead of their Guinness Six Nations opener against depleted Wales. Wayne Pivac’s side arrive in Dublin on Saturday as reigning champions but are hindered by the absence of a host of star names. Captain Alun Wyn Jones is among those unavailable, in addition to fellow British and Lions Leigh Halfpenny, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi.

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While Ireland have the luxury of being relatively injury-free, skipper Sexton dismissed suggestions the situation gives the hosts a significant advantage. “I am not going to say that because then I’m insulting the guys that are coming in – and the guys that are coming in are excellent players,” said the fly-half.

“The guys that are injured of course have big reputations because they have played multiple Tests for their country. They have performed week in, week out. But these other guys that are coming in are at the start of their journey and could go on and have the same careers as the guys ahead of them.

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“There is not one ounce of complacency in our squad. We haven’t spoken too much about who they are missing; we have spoken about who they have got. We see a big tough test ahead.”

Experienced Wales leader Jones – the world’s most-capped player – is sidelined with a shoulder injury. The enforced absence of the 36-year-old means fly-half Dan Biggar will captain the visitors at the Aviva Stadium.

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Biggar said this week that rival ten Sexton is among the toughest opponents he has faced during his career. Sexton is eagerly anticipating another tussle with his former Lions team-mate, with whom he toured New Zealand in 2017. “We have had some great battles over the years,” said the Irishman. “He is a good pal of mine.

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“The captaincy is something he deserves thoroughly. He has led from the front since probably 2015 when he made the jersey his own. He has been a mainstay of the team and I am looking forward to coming up against him on Saturday. He has improved his game immensely over the years. He is a world-class operator, so we have been preparing for him all week and they have got some other really good number tens who will be backing him up.”

Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan and Iain Henderson were expected to take part in training at the Ireland camp in Portugal on Tuesday, which would give head coach Andy Farrell a full complement of players to select from going into the weekend opener. Irish hopes of title glory last year were wiped out inside two rounds, beginning with a narrow 21-16 loss to Wales in Cardiff after flanker Peter O’Mahony was sent off inside 14 minutes.

While Wales went on to win the championship, Farrell’s men were left to reflect on what might have been. “Some of the things we look back on in that game were frustrations and things that we didn’t execute,” Sexton said, who went off with a knock on that disappointing afternoon for Ireland. “(There were) small margins right up until the final whistle.

“You don’t like looking back on games with regrets; you like to look back and say, ‘We ticked every box, we did everything we wanted to do’ and sometimes you lose and you can accept it. But we look back on that game with some frustrations.”

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