Ireland's future is in good hands, says Sexton
Ireland's Six Nations has hardly gone according to plan but Johnny Sexton believes there is still plenty to come from a side who secured back-to-back championships in the previous two seasons.
Ireland enter today's concluding fixture against Scotland (5pm, Aviva Stadium) with an average age just north of 29 but Sexton, who himself is 30, rejects the notion that the side peaked with the consecutive titles.
With the World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina last autumn - a game Sexton missed through injury - still casting a shadow over Irish rugby, the Leinsterman believes the squad's key players will still be a factor when the tournament is taken to Japan in 2019.
"When you go through the squad, there is a real mix of experience and youth," said the important playmaker whose contract runs until after that tournament.
"Guys that are involved in their first Six Nations campaign have acquitted themselves really well.
"You've got to look a little further outside the squad for guys that are pushing hard to get into it - Garry Ringrose obviously springs to mind because he's with my province.
"Guys like Josh van der Flier have done really well. I think we'll be in a pretty good condition in four years and I hope I'll be still around.
"You look at the guys outside, from the backline at the weekend, Robbie (Henshaw), Earlsy (Keith Earls), (Simon) Zebo, they'll be around.
"Jared (Payne) and Trimbs (Andrew Trimble) could be around in four years."
"The longer the game is professional, the more you will see guys playing to an older age. I want to play for as long as I can anyway."
While Ireland haven't been at their best in a championship that has yielded just one win to date, that coming against Italy last time out, Sexton has been on song for the most part, even in the face of some rough treatment from the opposition.
"The only frustrating thing from my point of view is that nothing has been done in terms of penalties, (that's) the worst things that have happened off a few of those late hits," said Sexton.
"Look, it's part of the game, it's what you expect as a number 10.
"I suppose we try to target the opposition number 10s as well, except we try to do it legally. You don't know if it is a tactic or if it is an individual doing it off their own bat.
"It's part of the game, some of them are marginal like the one [by Sergio Parisse] at the weekend. Just as I'm releasing the ball, you get tackled, that's fine, it is part of the game.
"So I don't think those are as bad as a couple of the other ones. I don't think it is a big deal.
"They can be sore at times when you are not expecting them. I suppose you just have to dust yourself off and go again."