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Sexton ‘Very Proud’ Of Record, But Win Was More Important

Sexton ‘Very Proud’ Of Record, But Win Was More Important

Jonathan Sexton gets away from Tonga's Salesi Piutau to score the try that took him past Ronan O'Gara's points-scoring record ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Head coach Andy Farrell said it was ‘so fitting’ that Jonathan Sexton broke Ronan O’Gara’s record with a memorable try under the posts to become Ireland’s all-time top points scorer.

O’Gara (1083 points) leapfrogged David Humphreys (560) at the top of the scoring charts back in February 2006, and now the mantle has passed to another talismanic number 10. Sexton’s try and 11 points from the tee against Tonga took his career haul for Ireland to 1090.

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Adding in his 2013 try for the British & Irish Lions against Australia, he has moved above Welsh legend Neil Jenkins into fourth place on the list of highest scorers in international rugby history.

Sexton claimed the Irish record in style with a cleverly-worked 37th-minute score that secured Ireland’s second bonus point of this Rugby World Cup. The rush from his team-mates to congratulate and engulf him behind the posts spoke volumes.

“I was just happy to score the try,” admitted the Ireland captain, modest as ever. “I think one of the lads said it to me (about breaking the record) under the posts. I actually thought I might have got it on the kick before.

Look, it’s something when you retire you can look back on and be very proud of. I think my little boy (Luca) will be over the moon. He was talking about it during the week.

“It probably means more to him! He’ll chase it down now, and so will the other 10s. It’s there to be broken now and I’m sure some young guys will be eyeing it up.

“I’m very proud to do it, but tonight it was more important getting the win and moving on to what is such a massive game (against South Africa) this coming week.”

Sexton has started RWC 2023 in impressive form despite his lack of recent game-time. He has racked up three tries and 40 points in all across the first two rounds, with only England’s George Ford (41) currently ahead of him.

The St. Mary’s College clubman has already topped his tallies from previous World Cups – 21 points in 2011, 31 points in 2015, and 26 points in 2019 – but is acutely aware that scoring opportunities will be much more difficult to come by against the Springboks.

Asked about the minutes he had gotten under his belt and the drive to get back to peak form, he admitted: “The proof will be next Saturday if I’m in good form. You’ve got to go do it in the games. There’s no point saying you’re feeling good or whatever.

“I just take it day by day, make sure I recover well, turn up to training Monday, Tuesday, and try and help put the plan in place to take on South Africa.

“They’ve hit a great vein of form and it’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but one that we are really excited about. Hopefully we’ll be ready for it.”

The fine-tuning of the Irish lineout had the desired effect with 21 wins and just two losses on their own throw. They stole two of their opponents’ throws, while the scrum was also rock solid against a mammoth Tongan front row.

The pack put in a big collective shift, particularly Tadhg Beirne and Josh van der Flier, who both played the full 80 minutes, and Peter O’Mahony (75) and Tadhg Furlong (71) were not far behind them. Having been replaced, tighthead Furlong had to return to the pitch due to Finlay Bealham’s HIA.

Sexton played the first half in Nantes before Ross Byrne came on at out-half for his first World Cup appearance. The Ireland skipper praised the forwards for ensuring that ‘the lineout was excellent, and the scrum as well’.

“We got a lot of territory and field position from the set piece. The forwards laid the platform and we got a couple of nice tries in both halves off first or second phase. Very pleased with that.”

It has been a real positive to see the Irish attack put away a good chunk of their chances, whether it is through the blunt force of the forwards, or Mack Hansen’s brilliant sidestep and burst of pace, or that lung-busting support run from Beirne¬†that saw him score right at the death against Romania.

Bundee Aki (who has starred with four tries), Beirne and Sexton (three each) lead the way in terms of tries scored, with the latter saying: “We’ve trained incredibly hard all summer, so we’re fit enough and able to get ourselves into positions to score tries and to put the opposition under pressure.

“We’ve done that well at times over the first two weeks. There was plenty of stuff that we’ll look back on early in the game where we’re going to need to be more accurate and clinical next week.”

Meanwhile, Farrell (pictured above with Tonga’s Chris Boyd) was pleased with how his side turned their pressure into points on a humid night. They went past the half-century mark with four tries during the closing 22 minutes.

Four more World Cup debutants (Byrne, Bealham, Ryan Baird and Craig Casey) were given a taste of the action, and Dave Kilcoyne and Robbie Henshaw both returned from their respective injuries.

Farrell says they are ‘building nicely’ on the back of their eight-try display in Nantes, benefitting from ‘getting a little bit of continuity, getting more game-time, getting the job done and getting people off at the right time’.

He was delighted to see Sexton add another milestone achievement to his collection. Apart from his scoring prowess, he says the thing that stands out about his captain is ‘how he makes people feel and how he leads the team, and he’s one of the best in the world at that’.

Speaking about the try which saw the Dubliner break O’Gara’s longstanding record, the Wigan man commented: “He’d nine points and equalled the record before he scored the try, hadn’t he? You just knew when we got held up, and we were set to play that play.

“It’s something that we’d obviously practised during the week. He knows which ones to follow! He followed Conor (Murray) really well, and it’s so fitting that he broke the record with a try like that.

“The record’s fantastic but he’d say that’s his job. But it takes some doing. To us, as a leader and as a player, he’s a lot more than a points-scoring machine.

“How he prepares his team and gets them up for absolutely every game selflessly is more important to, I would think, him and certainly to us.”