Johnny Sexton eager to avenge World Cup defeat to New New Zealand
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is determined to avenge World Cup agony suffered at the hands of weekend opponents New Zealand.
The Irish recorded a landmark maiden win over the All Blacks in 2016 in Chicago and backed that up by beating them on home soil for the first time two years later.
But Ireland’s hopes of becoming world champions in 2019 were abruptly ended when they were brought “back down to earth” by a crushing 46-14 quarter-final defeat to the Kiwis in Tokyo.
The sides are set to face off for the first time since on Saturday afternoon in Dublin and Sexton is eager to improve his country’s record of just two victories from 32 previous meetings.
“It was a little bit of ‘monkey off the back’ stuff and getting over the hurdle at last was huge,” he said of the historic 2016 win.
“It was something that we were desperate for. It’s always very special to be the first team to do something.
“You always want to put your name in the history books and that was our chance to do something that no Irish team had done before.
“It was amazing and then to back it up a few years later – any team can do a one-off but we wanted to back it up and show that it wasn’t a fluke.
“It obviously brought us back down to earth in our last game against them, so we’ve got to respond.
“Nothing ever comes easy against them, that’s what happens when you’re (playing) the best in the world, you have to go and work for it, and we’re willing to work. We’re just trying to give it our best shot”
Andy Farrell has replaced Joe Schmidt as Ireland head coach since that World Cup campaign, while Sexton has succeeded the retired Rory Best as skipper.
New Zealand have also switched coach, with Ian Foster stepping into the role vacated by Steve Hansen.
Asked whether beating the All Blacks as Ireland captain would have additional significance, Sexton replied: “It would add a little bit.
“I think it would still be special if I wasn’t captain but there’s a little bit of that there, of course.
“As captain, you’re desperate for the team to be successful – I was always desperate for the team to be successful even when I wasn’t.
“It is a privilege but it’s another ramp up in terms of how much I want the team to go well and win and perform because it is a reflection of your leadership.
“It would mean a lot but, like I said, it meant a lot when I wasn’t as well.”
Ireland warmed up for the All Blacks by thrashing Japan 60-5 on Saturday.
Sexton won his 100th cap in that game and celebrated with 16 points, including a second-half try.
The 36-year-old fly-half is content to move on from the milestone and have his full attention on rugby this weekend
“It was a bit draining last week, it was an emotional week from the jersey presentation to all of the messages coming in from different people,” he said.
“You wouldn’t want it any other way but, by the time it came to Saturday morning, I was like, ‘I’ve got a game to play now’.
“I’m glad – not that it’s over because it was a very special day for me and my family – but I’m glad it’s back to business.”