Johnny Sexton says Ireland can still improve after convincing Italy victory

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton admits Saturday’s crushing victory over Italy does not mean “everything is fixed”.

Sunday, 28th February 2021, 1:10 pm

Andy Farrell’s men bounced back from losses to Wales and France by running in six tries during a 48-10 bonus-point success in Rome to record an overdue first win of the Guinness Six Nations.

Fly-half Sexton added all six conversions and two penalties on his return from a head injury to help ease mounting pressure on head coach Farrell.

Ireland travel to Scotland on March 14 before concluding the tournament six days later at home to England and Sexton acknowledges there is still plenty to do to salvage an “OK championship”.

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Johnny Sexton of Ireland is tackled by Stephen Varney of Italy during the Guinness Six Nations match at Stadio Olimpico in Rome. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

“Each game has been different and I suppose (Saturday) was an accumulation and everything coming together a little bit,” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean everything is fixed now; we’ve got to keep improving and obviously a massive test ahead going to Murrayfield, it’s always an incredibly tough game.

“And then a six-day turnaround going into England, so it’s still all to do.

“If we get a couple of results in our last couple of games, it will be an OK championship, it will be what might have been, but we want to finish on a high.”

Ireland’s third-placed finish under Farrell in last year’s championship was assessed as an “average return” by the Irish Rugby Football Union and they already face a battle to emulate that moderate achievement.

Ireland’s worst start to a Six Nations campaign has prompted questions about the progress being made under their head coach.

Despite recent setbacks, Sexton has complete confidence in the current management team.

“We’ve come in for some flak over the last few weeks but internally as a group I don’t think we have ever been more confident about where we’re going and what we can produce,” said the 35-year-old.

“With the coaches that we have, with the leadership group coming out of their shells, I think that this group is on the right trajectory – and I properly believe that.”

Recalled flanker Will Connors claimed a brace at Stadio Olimpico, with Garry Ringrose, Hugo Keenan, CJ Stander and Keith Earls also on the scoresheet.

Sexton believes Leinster team-mate Connors – who has now registered three tries in four starts for his country – displayed elements of an all-round game during an impressive performance.

“You know what you are going to get with Will,” said Sexton.

“The energy that he brings, his chop tackles and his work in and around the breakdown, but he’s a brilliant ball player as well, which we probably haven’t seen enough of.

“But I think we saw glimpses (on Saturday), he was outstanding.”

Defeat for the hosts was a 30th in succession in the championship, dating back six years.

Italy captain Luca Bigi said: “We have to be more cynical when we create our opportunities but we are a young team that must grow.

“It is frustrating and the group is disappointed, but our growth also passes through these situations.

“The union of the team and the belief we work with will bear fruit, and when it happens it will be even more beautiful. We are attacked by every part but the heart and spirit we have inside are exemplary.”

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