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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Sexton: Japan Result Shows The Gap Is Narrowing

Sexton: Japan Result Shows The Gap Is Narrowing

Week two of the Rugby World Cup sees the Ireland squad based in Burton on Trent, with the players training at the English FA’s superb St. George’s Park facility in the peaceful countryside surroundings.

Joe Schmidt’s men travelled north from Cardiff to Burton earlier today and Jonathan Sexton, fresh from a man-of-the-match performance against Canada, reckons the facilities and location are ideal in terms of team preparations for next weekend’s clash with Romania.

“You couldn’t ask for anything better but we obviously have a day off in there somewhere (this week) and are already saying we are going to have to get out – there is not too much to entertain ourselves,” he admitted of Ireland’s new countryside base.

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“But from a preparation point of view it is ideal. That’s what we want at this time. We are pretty focused on the games. On down-time we can get out and do what we want to do.”

Ireland team manager Michael Kearney said that both he and head coach Schmidt had visited St. George’s Park before, and that the world class English National Football Centre has everything they need to prime the players for Romania.

“We looked at a number of venues down in London, and then we came up here and were hugely impressed. I have been here three times, Joe also came along here about six months ago and was massively impressed by the whole set-up,” explained Kearney.

“Everything from the pitch set-up, gym, swimming pool, they’ve got a full indoor facility. The hotel is top class, the food is top class. Everything that a professional team would wish for in terms of preparation is here. It’s all within the grounds so we don’t need to get on buses.”

Although pleased with aspects of the Canada game, and particularly the seven-try haul, the men in green were not getting carried away with Saturday’s 50-7 victory. Jamie Heaslip said that ‘Joe gave us a warning after the game that there’s work-ons’, and Sexton spoke in a similar vein.

The out-half, who scored a try and kicked nine points, said: “There were some mistakes and some good stuff but I think we’re just happy to get the four tries and to secure the victory and then we got our points difference up as well. We’re happy with a lot of stuff but there are some things we have to work on.

“There are some big tests ahead – that’s the attitude we’re taking. We haven’t had a chance to look at it yet but I am sure, during the review, there will be some pointers to work on.”

Kearney confirmed that Ireland came through the Pool D opener with a clean bill of health, apart from ‘the normal bumps and bruises associated with Test rugby’. Asked about Robbie Henshaw’s hamstring strain, he replied: “Robbie is working well through his rehabilitation and the expectation is that he will train this week and be available for selection (against Romania).”

Sexton and his team-mates watched the closing stages of Japan’s epic win over South Africa, and he remarked that the shock nature of that result, coupled with the performances of some of the other Tier 2 nations this weekend, shows that ‘anything can happen in this tournament’.

“We were obviously watching it after our game and it makes our performance and our result look a lot better, seeing a team like Japan beat South Africa. We could have obviously been on the end of it a couple of hours earlier, so the way we prepared and approached the game was very good and we got the result we deserved,” he added.

“You can see the flip side of what can happen if you take your eye off the ball in this competition. The gap is narrowing, and it’s given the sides that are the so-called minnows a boost to see Japan do that. It was a great result for Japan.

“You saw Uruguay do that against Wales (earlier on today), they put it up to them for the first 20 minutes and made life difficult for them. Argentina were obviously making life tough for New Zealand too. It gives everyone a boost to know anything can happen Aad it’s given us an alarm call, I suppose.”