Johnny Sexton calls for final push in Dublin date with England

Johnny Sexton admits Ireland are currently falling short of being a top international team and must prove their credentials by ending the Guinness Six Nations with an overdue win over England.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 5:43 pm

Sunday errors against Scotland caused a lead to evaporate before a late penalty from captain Sexton left Ireland second ahead of the final weekend showdown with England.

“As good a team as Scotland are, we have to look at ourselves first and foremost and need to improve,” said the 35-year-old. “If you have a 14-point lead in international rugby, the next moment is the most important one and you can – not finish the game – but put a statement down.

“Top teams they take the kick-off, they clear their lines and then they put pressure on again. We’re just short of that at the moment.”

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Ireland's Johnny Sexton scoring a penalty on Sunday against Scotland. Pic by PA.

Focusing on England – who suffered surprise defeats to Scotland and Wales – Sexton continued: “We’re up to second now, so big end to the tournament next week. We feel that we’ve been building.

“We feel we were a little bit unlucky in the first couple of games but we’re playing against – even though they’ve had a couple of bad results – the team that was in the World Cup final, the team that won the Six Nations last year, the team that won the Autumn Nations Cup.

“They’re a top, top team and we have to prove that we can match them and put in a performance to beat one of the top teams because we haven’t done it as of yet.”

Ireland are still seeking a first major scalp of the Andy Farrell era and will be without vice-captain James Ryan and centre Garry Ringrose on Saturday after they were each ruled out with injuries sustained in Edinburgh.

Vice-captain Ryan suffered a head injury against the Scots, while centre Ringrose sustained an ankle problem, with their forthcoming absences confirmed by the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Ireland have not defeated England since clinching the 2018 Grand Slam in London, losing each of the four subsequent meetings.

After their title defence was snuffed out with two rounds to spare, the English responded with a statement win from Saturday’s enthralling clash with France.

Ireland head coach Farrell was impressed with the quality of that encounter and expects to face a buoyant England side in Dublin.

“As far as the English are concerned, they’ll certainly reference their performance next week on what happened in the last performance,” he said. “For all of the purists of rugby, I thought it was an outstanding game and both teams were deserved winners in the end.

“England played some outstanding rugby and so did France. That’s the team we’ve got coming over.

“Regarding their campaign so far, that’s for them to talk about not us.”

In addition to plugging the gaps left by Ryan and Ringrose, Farrell has a big call to make on misfiring wing James Lowe.

New Zealand-born Lowe has started every Ireland game he has been available for since qualifying under residency rules in the autumn but is yet to convince at Test level and was at fault for Scotland’s first two tries.

“We’ll sit down with James and obviously there are others as well that we need to sit down with and keep educating them regarding what international football is all about,” said Farrell. “There are guys that are in there that are very young as far as their experience is concerned but for anyone to experience a win at Murrayfield is something to be proud of and I’m sure they’ll look back on.

“As far as progressing James’ game, we’ll help him like we’ll help everyone else as well.”

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