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Johnny Sexton: Ireland players feel we're progressing and maybe we need to prove that to the outside world

Autumn Nations Cup


Clinical edge: Johnny Sexton believes better execution will be key for Ireland going forward

Clinical edge: Johnny Sexton believes better execution will be key for Ireland going forward

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Clinical edge: Johnny Sexton believes better execution will be key for Ireland going forward

Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton has dismissed the idea that the side have taken a backwards step this autumn.

After losing to France in the Six Nations and then England in the Autumn Nations Cup, Saturday's laboured victory over Georgia did little to lift spirits.

With Andy Farrell having taken over from Joe Schmidt after the World Cup last year, there has been no signature result for the new coaching staff to hang their hats on.

Victories over Wales twice, Scotland and Italy have been nothing more than expected, while High Performance Director David Nucifora admitted on Monday that results have been "average".

Sexton, who is back fit for Saturday's Nations Cup third-place play-off with Scotland in Dublin, does not feel the team have regressed, noting that 2019 was no roaring success for the side either.

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"Well, if you look at our results, we've lost twice to England away and to France away - we won the rest of our games," Sexton reflected.

"So if you're talking about results, which is what Test match rugby is about, if we win on Saturday there have been plenty of Irish teams in the past that have lost in Twickenham and lost in France.

"Are we going backwards? Well, not if you compare it to 2019. To go and compare it to 2018, then obviously, but we went backwards in 2019 - the same team went backwards.

"So we're just saying what we feel. I know you guys don't agree, but we feel like we're progressing and we need to show it, and that's where the gap in opinion is, really."

The lack of a clear game plan against Georgia has left many reflecting on the contrast between the well-oiled machine of the peak Schmidt years but Sexton has stressed that the real issue lies in the execution.

"There's definitely a lot of detail in what we're doing and that's what's getting us into those opportunities that I spoke about," he said.

"The way we haven't finished those opportunities, if you talk about the amount of time we've had in the opposition 22 and just haven't capitalised, that's us not executing.

"Sometimes we're seeing it and just not executing, sometimes we're not seeing it and we're just running ourselves into brick walls.

"So it's a mixture of a few things, but there's definitely massive improvements we can make in certain areas of our game and sometimes, yeah, look, we'd be the first to admit when you're trying a new sort of shape and a new way of playing, sometimes you can lose sight of the smaller details.

"When you become comfortable with the bigger stuff, the bigger structures, then you can start to concentrate on the small detail.

"I suppose at the start, yeah, we may have got away from it a little bit because we were trying so many things and some new shape stuff, which is the bigger picture, and yeah, we spoke about those finer details that we were so successful with under (Schmidt).

"But I suppose the perfect combination is being able to do both, is to have that detail in and around what we're trying to do and the detail in around the ruck and the breakdown, and things that let us down on Saturday in particular."

Sexton's return to fitness will be all the more important given the groin injury sustained by Ulster's Billy Burns in the win over Georgia.

The fly-half, who was making his first start against Los Lelos, will now miss the game against Scotland, and Leinster's Harry Byrne has been called up to train with the squad.

There was better news on his provincial colleague Rob Herring who has overcome a rib injury.

Belfast Telegraph

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