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Wednesday 14 November 2018

Sexton to raise the Barr'

JOHNNY BE GOOD: Jonathan Sexton is looking forward to taking on Beauden Barrett (opposite page inset) when Ireland face New Zealand in Dublin next month. Photo: Sportsfile
JOHNNY BE GOOD: Jonathan Sexton is looking forward to taking on Beauden Barrett (opposite page inset) when Ireland face New Zealand in Dublin next month. Photo: Sportsfile

The perfect out-half would be a blend of the skills of Jonathan Sexton and Beauden Barrett. Does Sexton agree or disagree?

"If I was fast, basically, is what you're saying," he shoots back.

"And if he could kick," comes the return of serve.

"No, if you look at his stats, even during that Lions tour, he got slated for the second Test when he kicked seven from 10 on a windy, wet night in Wellington," said Sexton.

It was back there where Barrett came unglued again in the defeat to South Africa last month, the missed kicks killing the All Blacks.

"But, like, it's one of the hardest stadiums in the world to kick in," Sexton revealed.

"The wind can play absolute havoc. I've had sessions there where I've barely got a kick.

"I think he gets a bit of unfair criticism in his kicking, and, if you actually look at his statistics or whatever you want to look at, he's a very good kicker and he's a world-class player.

FLEECED

The latter claim was never more in play than when Barrett (right) fleeced Australia for four tries at Eden Park in August.

"To score four tries in a game is incredible, and he had one disallowed as well, so he had potential to score five," noted Sexton.

The comparisons between them are futile, due to the fact they bring different elements to the position.

The professional has rarely merged into the personal for the two men.

"I don't know him really that well," said the Ireland fly-half.

"I spoke to him after we played in Chicago and that was the only time I've ever swapped jerseys with the All Blacks."

The ultimate in mutual respect had to be done in a secretive way.

"It actually wasn't through either one of us. We didn't go into each other's changing room.

"Someone said it to someone on the way out, and he said 'yeah', and I went out to him and we swapped.

"It was a nice moment. It's good to have an All Blacks jersey in my house."

It isn't any old All Black - there is no such thing. It is the one you have to account for at all times.

"That is the only one I have, and look, he's a nice guy, World Player of the Year the last two years in a row.

"He's the guy to catch."

That can prove beyond the fingertips of even Conor Murray as it did the last time New Zealand came to the Aviva Stadium in 2016; Barrett's try being central to ripping away a revenge for Soldier Field.

"We didn't defend there like we were meant to defend, you know what I mean?" Sexton points out.

"We always have a good plan in place. It's up to the players to implement the plan properly and we didn't get that right and they scored a try.

"That's how good you have to be against the All Blacks. You have to have a plan and you have to implement it to near perfection.

"At times, you'll defend really well and they'll still score and you have to dust yourself off and go again."

Before the All Blacks come to Dublin, Sexton has to consider the whole of the month ahead, starting in a familiar place, Chicago Field, where Ireland executed the best one-off win in their history in 2016.

"Yeah, I think it's a special place It will be one that we always remember pretty fondly from the last day we were there. I'd love to go back," he said, in a reference to the fact that Ireland squad will probably be rotated for the clash with the Azzurri.

"Every player, no matter who you ask, are going to want to play every game for Ireland."

Ireland coach Schmidt will train his skills on how his side can overcome Argentina and New Zealand on successive Saturdays.

"I think Argentina have turned a bit of a corner in terms of, they're playing a lot different," explained Sexton.

"They're still playing expansive and trying to play how they've been trying to build over the last four or five years.

"They've added some things to their game with the new coaches and I think they're looking pretty good.

"I think we've got to worry about them first (before New Zealand) and getting back together and getting our levels of performance good, and then see where that leads us into the All Blacks game."

Of course, the Kiwis remain the standard setters in the global game.

"Before you play them, you know it's going to be the toughest game of the season, always," said Sexton, ominously.

"I remember one of my first games, I vomited at half-time. I think it was one of the first games here (in Dublin).

"It was just an incredible pace to the game, just every collision was ferocious. Every collision was like the first collision of the game."

That being said, Sexton insists that when it comes to taking on the All Blacks, he 2017 British & Irish Lions among the Ireland squad have moved beyond 'one-hit wonders'.

"A lot of us now have beaten them a couple of times and we want to do it again," he said.

"We've never beaten them in Ireland. It would be pretty special to be on the first Irish team to beat them here."

New Zealand won't use the excuse of fatigue because their player welfare system, similar to Ireland's, puts the player first.

"Look, they're the one team that you expect to come and show their best," said Sexton.

"Most of them will only have played the same amount of games we played last season, around that early 20s mark.

"I think they'll be fresher than other teams and be ready to go."

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