Captain Johnny Sexton has warned Ireland against complacency ahead of next year’s World Cup following a momentous series win in New Zealand.
Andy Farrell’s men underlined their credentials for the 2023 tournament in France by clinching a historic tour success against the All Blacks courtesy of Saturday’s pulsating 32-22 victory in Wellington.
Sexton, who surpassed 1,000 career points for his country in the Test decider, has repeatedly said the Irish must not repeat previous mistakes by peaking too soon for a World Cup.
But the influential fly-half also stressed that his side cannot afford to ease off before attempting to hit top form when it matters most.
Following a summer break, Ireland’s players will reconvene for Dublin clashes against world champions South Africa, Fiji and Australia in the autumn before preparing for another shot at Six Nations glory.
“We’ve got a full season to play and it shouldn’t be ‘beat New Zealand and let’s wait for the World Cup’,” said Sexton.
“There’s plenty more to play. There are big home games in November, there’s a Six Nations to play where we still haven’t achieved things we want to achieve in that.
“We got a Triple Crown this year but a championship or better would be something we’re aiming for, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be trying to progress and do that.
“It’s very Irish to think ‘oh, we have to take it easy now until the World Cup’. No, let’s keep making the most of it, let’s keep getting better.”
Sexton kicked 12 crucial points at Sky Stadium as Ireland, who lost the Auckland opener before levelling matters in Dunedin, completed a remarkable series turnaround to move top of the world rankings.
He consequently became only the second man – after former number 10 rival Ronan O’Gara – to reach four figures in the green jersey.
The Leinster veteran is acutely aware of the responsibility he has in maintaining standards moving forward.
“That has to be driven by me as captain and the rest of the leadership group,” continued Sexton, who celebrated his 37th birthday at the start of the week.
“To turn up, show the right attitude in September when we’re back playing for our provinces. Just keep getting better, that’s the key.”
Sexton, the 2018 world player of the year, ranked overcoming the All Blacks on New Zealand soil among the finest moments of his distinguished career.
Following the landmark series, he is eager to preserve the future of three-Test tours amid ongoing discussions about potential changes to the international calendar.
“It’s right up there, of course,” Sexton said of the 2-1 win.
“Every time you play for Ireland it is incredibly special and to do something that no team has ever done before…will we ever get a chance to play three Tests in New Zealand again? I’m not sure.
“If this world league idea comes in we’ll be playing one Test all over the shop but I think the three-Test series is special and that’s proven by this game. It would be a shame to get rid of them.”