“If I was to meet Johnny for a pint, I’d tell him I lost a World Cup Final in 1995 and I’m only just getting over it now.”
Here in Ireland, it may feel strange for some that the majority of us are lavishing the retiring Ireland stars Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls with praise, not long after they were eliminated from their fourth straight World Cup quarter final.
While most rugby fans in Ireland will be feel gutted at the manner of the latest exit in the last eight – our fourth in succession and eighth in 10 tournaments – that has been parked to acknowledge the excellent Ireland careers of both men. If some cannot see past that, how about taking the words of All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick as your gospel on this one.
Following New Zealand’s 28-24 win over Ireland, on Saturday, the former ABs captain spoke from the heart as he paid a fitting tribute to the now retired Ireland outhalf.
Sean Fitzpatrick on Johnny Sexton
“New Zealand had to give it everything,” Sean Fitzpatrick told ITV, “as they came across an Irish side that are just so good.”
“Johnny will be disappointed but Johnny Sexton is one of the greats, and he will always be remembered as that.
“New Zealand get to live another week, Ian Foster gets to live another week. It is wonderful, and they should enjoy tonight, then start work tomorrow.
“With Johnny, I’ve been in this situation before – been knocked out. And it’s a lost opportunity for the Irish. They’ll be thinking, ‘We had a team to win this World Cup, and we’ve lost that opportunity.”
Standing alongside Fitzpatrick, former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said his old Leinster and Ireland teammate ‘will have to live with this for a long while’. He did point out that Sexton’s missed penalty, in the second half, hurt Ireland and would have put them just a point behind the Kiwis, heading into the final quarter.
O’Driscoll argued that Ireland ‘threw everything’ at the All Blacks but ‘came up against a team of possessed men’ in Paris. “There’s nothing to criticise,” he added, “there really is not.”
SHANE BYRNE & LINDSAY PEAT 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
- Ian Madigan backs up Brian O’Driscoll training story about Garry Ringrose