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Johnny Sexton: Ireland were far from perfect; our best is yet to come

Johnny delighted by Ireland's wins but admits a lot of hard work lies ahead

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland remain a performance driven team in a results business and the thing about November was their impressive scorelines were delivered despite some ropey moments.

So, Johnny Sexton arrived into Dublin city centre yesterday to reflect on a memorable month before heading back to Paris.

Perhaps it is the voice of Joe Schmidt penetrating every segment of Irish rugby, but the tone of the discussion tended towards the deficiencies in Ireland's game rather than the fact that South Africa, Georgia and Australia had all left Dublin with their tails between their legs.

The thing about the Ireland coach is that his drive for increased standards remains unrelenting no matter what the result is.

There was much to admire about both wins over the southern hemisphere giants, scorelines that are never to be sniffed at and scalps that are there to be enjoyed by the players who delivered them.

That they were achieved without some key personnel and with so much scope for improvement suggests there is reason to be optimistic as thoughts turn to 2015, a year that begins with a Six Nations defence and builds towards the World Cup.

"They were great victories," Sexton said. "From an effort point of view, we couldn't have asked for more. But we're judged on our performances by Joe and there will be plenty of stuff we have to work on.

"It's not for me to say what we have to work on. It's his job and he will do that. We have a camp for two to three days before Christmas and we'll get the ins and outs then.

"But we know in terms of our work off set-pieces and stuff like that, how we launch the game and put teams under pressure when we have the ball is something that is obviously Joe's strength and the players' strength but we didn't do it as well as we could have.

"From Joe we're judged on aspects of our game. I was happy with some aspects, but there's a little bit of work to do on others. In terms of results, three wins, you can't ask for much more than that."

The room for improvement largely centres around Ireland's use of the ball in attacking situations. They scored four tries in the two big wins, but none of those came from a team-mate's pass.

Rhys Ruddock scored from a maul against South Africa, while Tommy Bowe's effort against the Springboks and Simon Zebo's effort against Australia came from clever kicks. Bowe completed the set with his intercept.

In the absence of Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy in particular, Ireland struggled to get over the gainline.

It's a point for improvement come spring.

"Performance-wise, it probably wasn't where we would like to be. We've plenty to work on going into the Six Nations," Sexton said.

"We had two weeks to prepare for three games, and you've got a lot of guys who are nursing injuries and not training as much as you'd like.

"You're limited in the amount of time you can train together, we didn't get to show everything (in attack) that we'd planned.

"Australia made it difficult for us, not getting the set-piece that we can makes it difficult to launch your attacking game. (Michael) Cheika obviously gave out about the amount we kicked because he wanted us to run the ball back at him and get guys like (Michael) Hooper into the game.

"We had to play the percentages, we wanted to challenge them in the air, we tried that, a couple of kicks went a little bit too far but that's not the end of the world. You'd rather them go a little bit too far than standing under your posts if they're a little bit too short."

Sexton believes the gameplan can be developed further when Ireland have more time in camp during the Six Nations.

"When we get the personnel back and get our set-piece back we can get to where we want to with more time," he said.

"We're under no illusions as players. I think we played with the ball a little bit better in the second-half against Australia - at times.

"We didn't show a whole lot which will be good for when we come to the Six Nations when we can use what we had planned to use and we'll take that positive.

"It's great that we're talking about all of these deficiencies in our play after three wins. It's a nice place to be and a good thing that we're doing it.

"We'd probably be talking about the same things if we'd have lost, that's probably what we'll do anyway. We'll pretend like we did lose and take everything as it was.

"We know we've plenty to improve on, but we'll work on that and we will improve by the Six Nations."

He returns to Paris sated for now, but will return with bigger fish to fry. 2014 ended well, but next year promises even more with Sexton eager to drive Irish standards even higher.

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