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Friday 15 November 2019

Sexton looking ahead but feels for those left out

Jonathan Sexton
Jonathan Sexton

In professional sport, you can only show so much emotion. Johnny Sexton empathises with the team-mates he and Ireland will leave behind when they go to Japan but already the focus has shifted towards Wales on Saturday.

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best's final home game is being viewed as a launch-pad for this Ireland team's World Cup campaign and, after the drama of Monday's squad announcement, the focus has quickly shifted.

The coach confirmed Sexton will start on Saturday, while Cian Healy, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls are in line to feature.

After suffering a thumb injury in the early stages of Ireland's pre-season and a leg issue during the warm-weather camp in Portugal, Sexton is raring to get going.

But he also took time to pay tribute to the players for whom the World Cup dream died - at least for now .

"I'm looking forward to it, it's been a good pre-season, it was frustrating obviously, picking up the knock, looking forward to it now," he said.

"I played with Dev (Toner) all the way through. You're obviously looking out for yourself in selection and then you are thinking about those closest to you. I feel for Dev as I do for Kieran Marmion, who has put in an unbelievable amount of work.

"The list goes on: Jordi (Murphy), Will Addison, guys that came so close, that are still in with us.

"It shows the mark of those guys that they are willing to come in after such disappointment to train as they have over the last couple of days, they know that they could be needed. There is a game to play still, guys could pick up knocks so those guys need to be ready."

This is Sexton's third World Cup but he is not ready to declare this the strongest squad he's been involved in.

"It's hard to compare. Even when you look at those 2011 games, it's like a different game almost," he said.

"In a short period of time the game just moves on so it is very hard to compare squads. There is good strength in depth there now, that's what we've built over the last couple of years."

Ireland have put in a huge amount of work on their fitness with the aim of arriving into Yokohama in two weeks' time ready to take on Scotland.

"You judge everything about the outcome in terms of at the end of the World Cup, we'll say 'I don't know if we were match fit' or say 'we were really match fit, that's why we did what we did'," Sexton said.

"It's all going to be judged in a few months' time. But what we've done so far is we've trusted the process because we've got one of the best guys in the world in (strength and conditioning coach) Jason Cowman and he puts the plan together and the plan is for us to peak over the next few weeks and peak for that Scotland game.

"Within that, there's obviously really tough weeks like the England week, which is also designed in there

"Maybe Wales had that last week after coming back from, I think they were in Turkey.

"So they'll probably better this week because of that so everyone is at different stages of their preparation in the warm-ups."

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