“It happens on most sporting parks when tensions are high and a lot at stake.”
Johnny Sexton and his Ireland teammates believed they were on the brink of something incredibly special at the World Cup. The Ireland captain said as much in his final pre-match press appearance before they faced New Zealand.
Following an epic contest in Paris, which Ireland lost 28-24, Sexton was emotional as he reflected on his final chance disappearing to led his country to World Cup glory.
“Irish fans get behind the team like no other, it’s incredible and it’s not wasted on us,” he remarked. “That’s why it is so hard to take really, that we didn’t give them another couple of weekends.”
The first of those weekends is fast approaching, with the All Blacks facing Argentina in one semi-final and South Africa taking on England in the other.
Ahead of those games, the New Zealand media is hoping their team does not repeat 2019 when they beat Ireland in the last eight only to falter in the semis, against England. A couple of Kiwi pundits have also taken issue with the hype around Ireland and an optimistic pre-match comment from Sexton.Johnny Sexton of Ireland speaks to media. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
“It’s not something that puts pressure on me” – Johnny Sexton
Ahead of the World Cup quarter final against New Zealand, Johnny Sexton was asked if he felt any pressure knowing every game at the tournament could be his last.
“Trying to win a World Cup, it’s something to go and get,” he responded.
“It’s not something that puts pressure on me. It’s something you dream of – probably not as a kid, because when we were kids we didn’t dream of Ireland winning a World Cup. I supposed we have put ourselves in a position to do that now.
“But it’s not something I’ve thought about in terms of my own career. I will think about it more when I finish. It’s all geared up to Saturday and it’s another massive challenge for this team, the biggest we have faced and we are looking forward to it.”
All pretty standard, we would say. As a 38-year-old, Sexton would have grown up in the 1990s when Ireland would have been doing well to win more than one game in the Five Nations. From when he was born  until 1999, Sexton was alive for five Irish ‘Wooden Spoons’. Winning a World Cup would never have been in the picture.
Times have changed now, off the back of the first generation of full-time Irish professionals and the latest crops coached by Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell. Targeting a Webb Ellis trophy is something that does not feel far-fetched any more, despite the quarter final hoodoo that refuses to go away.
For James Parsons, on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, though, Sexton got ahead of himself with those comments. He declared:
“If you use Johnny Sexton, for example, during the week he was talking about when he was growing up, and you couldn’t dream of Ireland winning a World Cup. And he was like, ‘Now we’re making it a reality’.
“And it’s like, ‘Mate, you’re at the quarter finals!’.”
The former Auckland Blues and New Zealand hooker insisted that many people claimed Ireland against the ABs would be ‘a walkover’. We could not find too many of those claims, but it is fair to say most pundits in this hemisphere of the world, and a fair few down south, backed Andy Farrell’s side to win.
Ian Foster on Ioane & Sexton incident
Johnny Sexton had a post-match spat with Rieko Ioane as the All Blacks centre cupped his ears towards the Irish fans, in Stade de France, and then gestured for them to be quiet.
He then made a disparaging comment towards the Ireland captain, prompting Sexton, who was held back by Jack Conan, to shout back, “Shut the **** up.”
Asked about Ioane gesturing towards the Irish fans, and that interaction with Sexton, New Zealand head coach Ian Foster sought to dismiss it, while aiming a veiled dig at the veteran outhalf.
“It happens on most sporting parks when tensions are high and a lot at stake. Unfortunately recently it’s also included players saying a few things to referees. Is it right for the game? I don’t know. You don’t hear a lot of players complaining about it.”
Sexton, of course, came into the World Cup on a three-match ban after being called up on misconduct charges when he challenged match officials after Leinster’s Champions Cup loss to La Rochelle.
Over on Sky Sport NZ, mean while, former All Blacks try machine Jeff ‘Goldie’ Wilson had some tough words for Ireland, too.
“The All Blacks were never behind on the scoreboard. The best team on the night won,” he said.
“Ireland weren’t allowed to do what they have done, on the effort and work of the All Blacks. What they did wasn’t good enough on that given night.
“They knew what was coming. They should have understood this wasn’t the same All Black team they beat in New Zealand. In the end, they weren’t good enough. I believe New Zealand wanted it, that little bit more.”
Ardie Savea had apparently been keeping track of all the pre-match talk, too, as Ireland were built up and the All Blacks doubted.
Man of the Match in that 28-24 victory, he later told reporters, “I held receipts and I let that fuel me and let that fuel the fire for this weekend. I think a lot of the boys did tonight.”
The lesson here? Don’t doubt the All Blacks, even when logic, results and form suggest otherwise.
MIKE ROSS & JOHNE MURPHY ON HOUSE OF RUGBY
- Johnny Sexton fumes at All Blacks centre Rieko Ioane in post-match exchange
- “You cannot do that” – Matt Williams on roughest reason Ireland lost to the All Blacks
- Well-intentioned press conference question draws emotional Johnny Sexton response
- Rob Kearney in stitches as Peter O’Mahony delivers emphatic post-match interview