Ireland will peak at World Cup with or without me, says Sexton

by AFP

Johnny Sexton is certain Ireland are heading in the right direction and will arrive at the 2023 World Cup in peak form, even if he is unsure he will last until then.

The captain will lead the side against Italy in the Six Nations on Saturday desperate to avoid three straight defeats at the start of the northern hemisphere championship for the first time since 1998, when it was the Five Nations.

Register for Stan Sport now to watch every minute of Super Rugby AU. The new add-on Sport package is available for just $10 a month with customers able to get a 30-day free trial for a limited time only.

Sexton, 35, said on Tuesday that despite the narrow losses to Wales (21-16) and to France (15-13), he had seen enough to suggest Andy Farrell's men were on the right path.

"The coaches have done a fantastic job," he said.

"It is very different towhat it was before.

"We will be better. I do not know if I will be around for the full cycle tothe World Cup (in France) but I know this group will definitely be better forthis type of coaching and structure."

The Leinster fly-half said his new contract was "nearly" agreed but thathis thoughts on his future had not changed.

The major disappointment in his stellar career is that the Irish havefallen short of expectations at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, losing in the quarter-finals on both occasions.

"If you look, it has been other people who have thrown fuel on the fire saying I would play on until I was 40 or 41," he said.

"I have always taken the same position that I love what I do and I am privileged to do what I do. I still love it and will carry on playing due to that."

Sexton, who has been increasingly affected by niggling injuries, missed the France match after failing to recover from a knock to the head in the Wales game.

The 2018 world player of the year said he was fit and raring to go for the match in Rome against Italy, who have beaten Ireland just once in the Six Nations, in 2013.

He said he was still highly driven to play at the top level despite his veteran status.

"All I hope is the coaches and the players see how motivated I am intraining every day," he said.

"I have been fortunate to last as long as I have for you can be 24 or 25 years of age, you get an injury and you're finished.

"At the moment I am contracted for this season and nearly contracted for next season. Hopefully I'll stay and we'll see what happens."