Johnny Sexton declares himself fit to face Australia on Saturday night

Ireland captain has shaken off a dead leg for final November international

As expected, Johnny Sexton has declared himself fully fit for Ireland’s concluding Bank of Ireland Nations Series match against Australia at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday night (kick-off 8pm).

Ross Byrne had been added to the squad in light of Joey Carbery joining Ciarán Frawley on the sidelines. But given that call-up had not occurred until Tuesday suggests the management were covering their bases in having a third specialist outhalf in the squad, with a view to Byrne being 24th man on Saturday night.

“Yeah good,” Sexton responded when asked about his fitness in light of the dead leg which ruled him out of consideration for the Fijian match. “I trained today and ready to go.”

There was a “little bit” of relief in that statement after he was unable to train last week.


“Last week was a bit of a struggle with swelling and fluid, and stuff like that. So, it was just managing that and then making sure I got the right amount of training in this week to be able to perform, but also not do too much that swelled it up again.

“No, it’s good to go and it feels good, so yeah, I’m ready.”

In Sexton’s absence, Carbery started while Jack Crowley made his debut off the bench as a replacement for the last 35 minutes, and is almost certainly going to be on the bench again. But the Irish captain was not inclined to analyse their games when asked, and certainly not in public.

“It’s up to the coaches. I think they did well. It’s not up to me to comment too much on my competition. I can’t big them up too much,” said Sexton with a wry smile. “And I definitely can’t criticise outhalves because you’re looking at the game and it’s very easy to sit there thinking I would have done this, but it’s a tough place to go and control things.

“If the team is not quite functioning around you, it can be hard to make a real good impression. But I think they did well. For Jack to come on so early on his debut and handle things really well, he’ll be delighted with himself.

“Within that, the coaches will have spoken to him about how to keep improving, like they always do. They’re still doing that with every player. So they did well and for Jack especially, he’s young and where he wants to take his career is totally up to him. He’s got the brain, the talent, he’s got everything going, he just needs to go and fulfil it now.”

The nature of Ireland’s underwhelming win over Fiji after making nine changes in personnel from the starting XV which beat South Africa a week previously has raised questions about Ireland’s depth, something that was put to the Irish captain.

“It’s very hard to know. You go back to 2015 and we thought we had good depth, but you lose six players in one game and suddenly, a bit like last week, you lose six players and it’s a lot of changes to make the week after. We probably didn’t cope with that and we didn’t cope with it on Saturday as much as we would have liked.

“They’re the things we need to work on but there’s areas of our game from the South Africa game. I’m not putting it all down to the Fiji game – that teams are going to come after us in a different way because of whatever – if you want to say we’re the number one team in the world or we’ve got some good results under our belt. They’re going to come after us and try to mess us up. Over the two games so far, we haven’t handled that as well as we would have liked.”

Along with Josh van der Flier, Sexton has been nominated on the four-man shortlist for the prestigious World Player of the Year award, which he won in 2018, and admitted: “It’s always nice to be recognised like that, I’m not going to lie.

“It’s not something you go searching for but to be recognised in that area is very special. I would prefer a win and to play well on Saturday than win that, because ultimately at the end of the day it’s opinion. Whereas what you produce on Saturday is what it is, what you see, and it’s the only thing you can control. All my focus is on that and to be recognised is enough.”

Sexton’s long-time English rival and occasional Lions team-mate, Owen Farrell, is in line to win his 100th cap for his country against New Zealand at Twickenham next Saturday, an achievement which the Irish captain described as outstanding.

“He’s been an amazing player for England over the years and how good he is, you can see it when he’s not there, when he was missing. He’s that glue that keeps the team together. I’ve played with him and been in a dressingroom with him where his leadership is outstanding.

“He goes into an even uniquer place – there’s not many English players who got to 100 caps, I think it’s only two before him, so it’s an amazing achievement for him. I’ll drop him a line at some stage and say congrats. A great ambassador for that team.”

They still, he said, keep in touch, although he added with another knowing smile: “We’ve had a few run-ins as well so it’s not as cosy as everyone would think! But no, he’s a great competitor. Utmost respect for him and he’s a guy that I’ve looked at closely over the years. Lucky enough to have played with him and I’ve tried to take some of his game and put it into my game. My words won’t do him justice I don’t think.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times