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We're determined to be history boys and make fans proud, insists Sexton

 

Make or break: Johnny Sexton is relishing big showdown
Make or break: Johnny Sexton is relishing big showdown

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Today, for the seventh time, Ireland have an opportunity to reach a Rugby World Cup semi-final. Never before have they made it beyond this point and, in what could be his final match in charge, Joe Schmidt and his team face their greatest challenge.

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The three-in-a-row-chasing All Blacks stand between Ireland and their goal. This is the fifth and final meeting between the sides during the Kiwi coach's tenure and the score stands at 2-2. This one will go a long way towards defining his legacy.

For the players, it is an opportunity to go where none of their predecessors have gone before and shatter the quarter-final glass ceiling.

Despite their lack of success at this competition, Johnny Sexton says this Irish team is unburdened by history.

"Of course we'd like it to be better but it is what it is," the out-half said of Ireland's record at World Cups. "There's nothing we can do about previous results now. All we can do now is concentrate on putting in our best performance.

"That will give us a chance, and if we can walk off that pitch having played our best, given it everything, we can look at ourselves afterwards no matter what.

"That's what we focus on. The record at the tournament, it's not something that we've overly spoken about.

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"Of course we know we can make his­tory, we can create something a little bit special if we can do that.

"But I can't really speak about Ireland's record because it's been a different team every time."

Sexton was speaking at the Tokyo Sta­dium where he took part in a solo kicking session. The rest of the squad passed up the chance to train at the venue, with Schmidt opting to remain close to the team's base across the city instead of making the three-hour round trip on a bus.

They welcomed comedian Risteárd Cooper to their lunch yesterday to help lighten the mood ahead of what Sexton has referred to as the biggest game of his career.

He admitted that this match has been on his mind for most of the year, if not longer, and he is relishing the challenge of taking on the 2011 and 2015 cham­pions.

"It's been a long time in the back of our minds. It was always going to be a case of if we got through our pool we would be playing South Africa or New Zea­land," he said.

"We are here now. It is a little bit surreal. I can't believe we are finally here. This time four years ago I was a supporter like you guys (due to injury).

"I'm really looking for­ward to trying to show what we can do on the biggest stage, against the best team in the world. A team that hasn't lost a World Cup game since 2007, so it is going to be an enor­mous challenge. But it's one we are excited about - we want to make the peo­ple at home really proud."

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