Belfast Telegraph

We'll get to bottom of Ireland's failure: Sexton

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton

By Cian Tracey

Almost three weeks on from Ireland's dismal World Cup exit and we are none the wiser about why things really went so badly wrong.

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The pain was still etched across Johnny Sexton's face as he took his place on stage at the Principality Stadium and was quizzed about Leinster's upcoming Champions Cup campaign. He looked as if he would have been happy for the ground to swallow him up.

Sexton knew what was coming. After the formalities were conducted, he was grilled on his take on Ireland's abject failure.

It took a few minutes, but he eventually warmed to the task.

Sexton claimed he wasn't aware of his former team-mates Isa Nacewa and Brian O'Driscoll's criticism of Ireland's failure to adapt, but was then informed on the spot. The out-half brushed off the suggestion that Stuart Lancaster's positive impact at Leinster ended up clouding the thinking in the Ireland set-up, but Sexton did agree with the assessment that his side did not evolve their game-plan after enjoying a stunning season in 2018.

"We didn't improve enough," Sexton conceded.

"We didn't evolve as much but that is all in hindsight. We obviously tried to and we didn't. It's tough to take.

"Look, we haven't done a review process yet and we will. We will sit down and we will be as honest with each other about things, so we can learn going forward.

"But every World Cup is different. I know everyone wants to say 'Oh it's a quarter-final again, you didn't do this and that'. But each quarter-final has been different. What hurts the most is that we didn't play as well as we could, so we will never know.

"We knew coming into this World Cup that it was going to come down to the quarter-final and it was going to be South Africa or New Zealand.

"So it was blatantly going to be unbelievably tough. There was a good likelihood that we were going to lose in a quarter-final. It was going to be a 50-50 game at best against a top quality team.

"Where it hurts us is that we didn't play as well as we can or as well as we could have or as well as I thought we prepared, so we will never know what we could have done. That's the part that hurts."

After four years of building towards that All Blacks game, Ireland were unable to fire a shot.

"It'll be raw for four years," he admitted.

"It'll be raw for lads that go to the next World Cup for the next four years. For the lads that don't, for the rest of their careers, for the rest of their lives really. It meant that much to us, but we have to go and look at everything we did," he said.

Sexton stood by his assertion that training in the week of the New Zealand defeat went as well as possible, even when it was put to him that Joe Schmidt suggested it was "flat".

As bad as this year was for Ireland, it wasn't as if they didn't recognise things weren't going right as they attempted to rectify it before it was too late. Sexton offered a brief insight in that regard.

"There were times throughout the year where the coaches challenged us to improve and we challenged the systems or whatever you want to call it. On both sides, we didn't. That was through it and after it," he said.

"You can have opinions on why, but it (2019) is a failure.

"We didn't do what we wanted in the Six Nations. We didn't do what we wanted in the World Cup so there is no other way to look at it."

Sexton already has his sights set on returning for the start of Leinster's Champions Cup campaign against Benetton on November 16 - the Blues go to Connacht tomorrow night in the Guinness PRO14 - and the 34-year old is not ruling out playing at the next World Cup in 2023.

"I am contracted for this season and for next season," he added.

"My body feels great. I am obsessed with trying to play for as long as I can. I spoke to a lot of guys who have done that, guys I have been surrounded by.

"I am still hungry. I want to finish at the top. Whether that happens or not over the next few years, we'll see.

"There have been plenty of 37 year-olds going to Rugby World Cups and I would love to add my name to that list."

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