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'Ireland's biggest strength is the collective': Johnny Sexton says top quality squad gives confidence for New Zealand quarter-final

Ireland's Johnny Sexton speaks to the press ahead of the World Cup game against New Zealand.
Ireland's Johnny Sexton speaks to the press ahead of the World Cup game against New Zealand.

By Ruaidhri O'Connor in Tokyo

Johnny Sexton says Ireland’s match-day 23 that will take the field against New Zealand tomorrow is among the best he’s played with.

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And he says this Irish set-up will take confidence from the quality of players in the dressing-room and the coaches in the stands when they look to make a first World Cup semi-final by beating the champions in Tokyo.

Sexton revealed that Ireland welcomed comedian Risteard Cooper into their camp for lunch today, with the renowned impersonator regaling them with his Joe Schmidt send-ups to help lighten the mood ahead of the big game.

Training, he said, has gone well this week and he believes the squad is ready to deliver a performance.

"Yeah right up there, right up there. That's where we get our little bit of belief and bit of confidence from, when you look around this circle," he said.

"I'm not talking about the experienced lads, but you look around and see guys like Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale, James Ryan, the guys that are just top quality people and players, and then you look and see all the experienced guys who have been around the block.

"So that's what gives us belief and confidence. But in terms of the team, yeah, right up there and our biggest strength is our collective, and we'd pretty much do anything for each other."

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Remarkably, tomorrow will be Sexton’s first quarter-final start and he described this match as the biggest of his career earlier this week.

However, he is not daunted by the challenge and says it has been easy to relax this week.

"It’s pretty easy when you got the coaches that we have. The quality of captain that we have. We basically just listen to them. We got a good leadership group around Rory (Best)," he said.

"We have just been day by day focus.

"You can’t play the game on a Monday or Tuesday but we would have done ok if we played the game on Tuesday because we trained brilliantly.

"But you can’t win it during the week but you can prepare really well and give yourself the best chance – we have done that all week. It’s been some really good week’s prep. Guys are going in fresh and ready to go. We have had weeks like that and we haven’t performance and others when it goes perfectly.

"Nothing really counts until kick off time tomorrow and we got to produce the goods then."

Sexton was once again asked about Schmidt’s legacy, but he wants to avoid further ribbing from his team-mates so avoided eulogizing his head coach who will leave his role in the next three weeks.

"I’ve spoken about Joe a lot. I’m going to get some serious slagging now when I get back. I already get slagging for my relationship with Joe and I don't want to delve any deeper!" he said.

"We had Risteard Cooper in for lunch today (laughs) and he did a bit of a skit on Joe, which was very good and Joe took it very well.

"But look, Joe's legacy really speaks for itself.

"We don't want to get distracted by it being his last game, second last game, third last game, we want it to be...we'll talk about him when it's done.

"It will be the same for Rory, but his legacy speaks for itself.

"I have spoken about it on numerous occasions so you can go back and see what I said a few weeks ago.”

Tomorrow’s match will see Sexton and Conor Murray surpass Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara’s record for Irish matches as a half-back partnership.

And he reckons they can go on for some time yet.

"When we started off you’d never have thought we’d have played this many matches together, we were like two strangers looking at each other in those first few games," he said.

"Look, we’ve gone from strength to strength.

"Conor’s a top quality operator, he’s a quality pass, his kicking game and basics of what world class scrum-halves are – he’s up against one tomorrow.

"But, it’s been a pleasure to play alongside him. I hope we get many more together.

"After the World Cup you guys will probably turn on us, start calling for our heads and saying we’re too old. Saying the next batch have to come through. I can see it already.

"But, I’ve no doubt we’ve got a few years left."

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