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Ireland v New Zealand: Still plenty more to come from this group, vows Johnny Sexton

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland may have already scaled new heights this month but Johnny Sexton has called on his team-mates to keep striving for more.

Twenty-eight Irish teams had tried and failed to beat the mighty All Blacks before the historic triumph in Soldier Field a fortnight ago but even five tries against the world champions did not save the squad from the forensic glare of head coach Joe Schmidt's video review.

With Sexton known to possess the same perfectionist streak, the Leinster star was quick to get behind his coach's calls for improvement in the Aviva Stadium rematch on Saturday.

"We're very much a performance-driven team," he said yesterday at the team's Carton House base camp.

"Even though we got the win, the review was pretty harsh. We feel we can be better, which is a good thing.

"We know they will be a lot better so we'll just go out and try and implement our game plan again, put in the best performance we can and we'll see where that gets us against the All Blacks, who will definitely turn up again on the day."

Sexton will have relished the exorcism of Kiwi ghosts as much as anyone - as recently as last month he admitted to still thinking about the late penalty miss in 2013 that would have left New Zealand chasing two scores when, in the end, a last-play converted try broke Irish hearts - but he felt the side used their most recent, and most painful, defeat against the world champions as a lesson.

In Soldier Field, when Steve Hansen's men lifted themselves from the canvas with a second half comeback, Ireland found a counter-punch in the shape of Robbie Henshaw's clinching score.

"It is a little bit of a monkey off the back by getting that first victory against them," the 31-year-old said.

"(In Chicago) we just got back to the plan and there were some good plays by the lads that got us back down there and we took our chances.

"When we sat back was when we got ourselves into trouble and then the guys took the front foot again.

"We took the front foot, got back down into their territory and we were really clinical so I would say that.

"You saw at times our defence was obviously a lot better and at other times when we made those system errors we got punished."

In the past Irish teams have always been seen as capable of one-off performances spurred by emotion, but all too often lacking an ability to repeat the trick.

While Sexton somewhat contests the characterisation - he cites the two weeks that separated wins over Australia and South Africa in 2014 - he admits the need to back up the feat of Chicago has been spoken about among the players this week.

"We've shown at times that we have got over that," he said. "Last November we beat South Africa and Australia back to back and we've had other victories back to back, but there's still an element that we've spoken about a little bit about needing to back it up.

"Really that's performance-driven in that regard, turning up on the day, making sure emotionally, physically that we're ready to go and in the right frame of mind as we were last time and then the result will come after that.

"But that's all we can influence at the moment and that's what we talked about."

Belfast Telegraph


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