Johnny Sexton: ‘This is not the end, there’s plenty more left in this team’

Andy Farrell: ‘There’s a lot of stars that have aligned over the last eight weeks’

Presumably, Johnny Sexton has his own script writer. On his 60th and final Six Nations game, he captains Ireland to a St Patrick’s weekend win over England to seal just a fourth Grand Slam in history and the first to be completed in his home city, even the first outright title here in 28 years.

He also eclipsed Ronan O’Gara as the championship’s leading all-time points scorer. Yeah, right.

Even Sexton kept saying he needed to pinch himself and accordingly wore a pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming expression both in his pitchside post-match interview and in the ensuing press conference.

“These moments don’t happen often. This is the fourth time ever which shows how hard it is. Literally why it is so hard is that every game you play for your country means so much,” said Sexton, who highlighted how England put “everything into that”.


“And it’s the same every single game. You have to turn up five weeks in a row. And I think we did. I think we weren’t on it today; we just made some silly errors at some crucial times. It made things difficult. But yeah, we won a Grand Slam. It’s pinch yourself stuff.

“You couldn’t make it up really. I said during the week it is the stuff of dreams. And growing up, all you want to do is play for Ireland. I said during the week, I don’t know why, but when I was growing up, I always wanted to captain Ireland.

“And this fellah asked me to do it,” he said, nodding toward Andy Farrell alongside him. “It was probably one of the best days of my life when he did and this day is even better.

“They’re a great group, great management team and a great bunch of players. And I said in the dressingroom there, this is not the end. There’s plenty more left in this team,” said Sexton, who has one final swansong to a remarkable career at the World Cup.

Farrell noted that both Garry Ringrose, who was unable to receive his 50th cap last week, and Josh van der Flier each received caps to mark that milestone before saying of Sexton: “It’s unbelievably fitting that in my opinion the best player ever to play for Ireland is able to sign off on a Grand Slam on St Patrick’s Day (sic), in front of his home crowd.

“There’s a lot of stars that have aligned over the last eight weeks and accumulated into this evening.”

Alas, the sour note on Sexton’s otherwise perfect day was suffering a groin injury which looked worrying for both the player and Leinster. True to type he had put his body on the line when defending the English maul which led to Jamie George’s consolation try.

“It doesn’t feel great at the moment,” admitted Sexton. “I suppose I deserve it for trying to get involved in a maul, it’s not where I should be. I thought I would be able to hold it up a little bit but it came down, doesn’t feel too good at the moment.”

As for Farrell, in the immediate warm glow of winning, he admitted he didn’t know how to feel.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, or [be] a bit sad. I don’t know. It’s a weird feeling at this moment in time. I’m just elated for the boys, just to get it over the line, because it meant so much for them, especially being here, at home. Only the fourth one in Irish history, you know? And the first one at home [Dublin].

“It’s a special occasion, especially with the weekend that’s been, outside our hotel. So, we felt a duty that we couldn’t let people down. I would say there is a sense of relief to get the job. But immensely proud.

Grand Slams are not just won on nights like this. They’re won not just over the eight-week period but all the time that we’ve been together. We’ve been building towards this and I’m just glad we got the job done.”

Sexton was asked about his celebratory jig, or dance, after landing the conversion to the Rob Herring try which ensured Ireland of a three-score lead, prompting Farrell to quip: “It was embarrassing, wasn’t it, very embarrassing. That was cringey.

“I didn’t do a dance, did I? I jumped in the air,” said Sexton.

“Let’s pretend you did then,” said Farrell.

“I definitely didn’t,” insisted Sexton. “I’m not a dancer, I can confirm that.”

“You will be tonight,” said Farrell, although the way he gingerly walked out of the room suggested otherwise.

“It was an unbelievable atmosphere, very special,” said Sexton. “I’d say we had 98 per cent of the stadium I reckon? It was incredible. Fair play to England the way they turned up; they were really good. To bounce back in that fashion speaks a lot about their captain, their coach. They made it tough and we made it tough for ourselves. We will take a lot of learnings out of it I suppose, but for now we might just enjoy it for 48 hours and not worry about it too much.

But Sexton also made it clear that there is plenty more to achieve, not least when captaining Ireland at the World Cup.

“That’s the goal, isn’t it? That’s what we’ve spoken about building towards. I think this is a part of the journey and very special, like the series in New Zealand was incredibly special. We don’t have to have a poor Six Nations to go on and win a World Cup.

“When England won in 2003 they had a Grand Slam in the same year so we need to keep our feet on the ground first of all and keep building. There’s a lot of guys that have missed this campaign that are injured and going to come back and put pressure on the guys that have been playing and that’s what we need come World Cup time. We need 40-45 players all at the same level fighting for positions.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times