Scars of 2010 linger as Sexton targets ‘special’ Triple Crown

Ireland captain focused on producing a good performance against ‘dangerous’ Scotland

Even before the 2022 Guinness Six Nations had started Johnny Sexton had scanned the fixtures and dared to think of potentially earning a relatively rare opportunity to win silverware in front of a capacity home crowd on the final Saturday.

A 12th Triple Crown is assured if Ireland can beat Scotland at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday (kick-off 4.45pm), while also having the chance of becoming Six Nations champions should France slip up at home to England.

Now the Ireland captain can dare to dream.

“Yeah, it would be very special,” Sexton admitted on Tuesday in his weekly captain’s briefing. “Once we had lost that game to France we set our targets on this. It’s the only thing that is in our control. If we can get a win and if we can do that, then we’re guaranteed [the Triple Crown].


“But we have to hold our end of the bargain up. We have to make sure that we play really well. We have to perform on the big stage which is where we’re at. We want to perform for people who come and watch us. So all our focus is on our performance but yeah it’s good to know that if we do get it right and get a win that we’ve got a chance to lift some silverware in front of all those people.”

That said, Sexton doesn't have to think too hard for warning signs, as he was part of the team that failed to back up wins at Twickenham and at home to Wales when losing to Scotland in the Croke Park farewell in 2010.

"Yeah, I think I'm the only sole survivor from that day," said Sexton wryly, although for once his encyclopedic knowledge was just a little awry, as Cian Healy also started that day, as indeed did forwards coach Paul O'Connell.

“But yeah the scar is still with me. That’s exactly the lesson we are trying to get across to the lads. They [Scotland] had nothing to play for that day, we had a Triple Crown on the line, and they came and did a job.

“They had nothing to lose and they played brilliant rugby and yeah it was a bad day, to have a packed out Croke Park, and we got nothing out of the game.”

Therein, he noted, was one of the benefits of experience, to relay an example like that when, he reflected: “We probably didn’t nail our preparation.”

Specifically, he admitted: “The things we normally did the night before a game, we veered away from that. We did try to do something new. That’s in hindsight. If we’d gone and played brilliantly we’d have said we should do that before every game.

“It wasn’t the overriding factor. The overriding factor was Scotland played better on the day and we weren’t at the level we should have been.”

Furthermore, this is an altogether more potent and dangerous Scottish side than the one of a dozen years ago.

“We definitely won’t be underestimating them,” said Sexton, noting Scotland’s away wins against England, France and Wales in the past year.

“I know they’ve no Championship to play for but that’s when they can be at their most dangerous because they’ve got nothing to lose. They want to finish as high up the table as possible.

“But also any time you play a game – whether it’s a November international, a summer international, a Six Nations game – it’s very special. You’re still playing for your country, you’re still representing a lot, and we’re preparing for their best performance and they’ve got some outstanding individuals.”

But Sexton doesn’t necessarily believe that Ireland need silverware to prove to themselves that they this team is on the right track, reminding us that 12 months ago he kept telling us this was the case.

“It might validate it a bit but I still think we are on the right path, we are not really thinking like that.”

Improving in every game is, he says, more important. In that regard, the Ireland captain maintained they took plenty from last Saturday’s 32-15 win in Twickenham.

“I think we got a lot of things right. We were sloppy in some areas which we’ve looked at. You learn a lot in showing what we showed, which was a lot of character to stay in the fight, and stay in the moment, and make sure we were able to bounce back from a lot of setbacks and a lot of things that weren’t going our way and still be able to recover.

“So we learned that if we can get out of that situation it will stand to us in the future as well.”

Sexton revealed that the third quarter in Twickenham, when failing to convert “some great bit of play” into a try, was a main focus in the review.

“They [England] worked so hard with 14 men. They were in the fight the whole time and we weren’t clinical enough to take that chance.

“If you take that chance at 15-9 up it can be a huge turning point in the game because then they have to play a little bit more and it can take its toll. We need to be more accurate but that period especially was one that we’ve looked at a lot.”

Every single member of the bench contributed to Ireland eventually pulling clear from 15-all on the hour mark with tries by two of them, Jack Conan and Finlay Bealham.

"That's why the bench is so important. You get coaches talking about picking people to finish the game. They have such an important role. I thought Conor [Murray] and Robbie [Henshaw] were outstanding as well when they came on, Jack Conan, Finlay, you mentioned, Rob Herring as well, Dave Kilcoyne, I could mention all of them.

“That was the difference, the impact our bench made. If they didn’t play well we wouldn’t have got the result that we did. Fair credit to them and whoever is on the bench this week needs to have the same impact because it could come right down to the wire.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times