Johnny Sexton declares himself fit for Japan Autumn Series opener

A looming international window wouldn’t be a looming international window without some sort of injury concern over Johnny Sexton, but the Leinster and Ireland captain has confirmed he is fully fit for the upcoming November series opener against Japan on Saturday week at the Aviva Stadium.

Sexton left the field 50 minutes into Leinster’s 50-15 win over the Scarlets at the RDS last Saturday week but the Irish captain has resumed full training, thus putting him in line to win his 100th cap for his country against Japan.

“Yep, all good. I just had a little niggle in my hip over the last couple of weeks, but good to go. I trained yesterday, trained two days before that, and yeah, all good. I’m ready to train tomorrow. We’ve got meetings today, we just met up this morning and I’ll train fully this week and next week and hopefully lead into Japan.”

Sexton was speaking at an Autumn Series launch with the respective captains of the Six Nations teams. Ireland’s last World Cup floundered on defeats by Japan and New Zealand, and with the All Blacks to follow a week later on November 13th before completion of the November programme against Argentina on Sunday the 21st, this is an opportunity to put down a marker two years out from the 2023 World Cup in France.

“Yeah I think it’s a big series of games. Since Andy’s come in we’ve had some great performances and we’ve had some average performances, so for us it’s about getting that consistency. The level of consistency where you don’t see us going up and down, you see a standard that we want to set with Japan being first up, and then continuing that for the two games subsequently. Then we’ll see where we are leading into the Six Nations.

“But we’re taking it game by game as such, we’ve always said that. It’s a huge game against Japan. You saw against Australia how they made life difficult for them. They’ve been outstanding over many fixtures over the last couple of years, especially during that World Cup. They haven’t had many fixtures since the World Cup obviously, but they were a team to be reckoned with and we won’t be taking them lightly, of course.”

Sexton has made little secret of his desire to make it to the next World Cup and admitted France 2023 was already “on the horizon.” He added: “We have spoken about that, that we have a two-year bloc ahead of us and how we can go into that tournament in the best place we can be and full of confidence and ready to take on the world. We spoke about that and that bloc starts now. We want to see continuous improvement and consistency that everyone is proud of. The focus is all on Japan now to get off on the best foot possible.”

This, he said, contrasted with previous World Cup cycles.

“There is a difference already because we have mentioned the World Cup two years out. We have sort of put it on the radar whereas we have never done that before as long as I have been involved.

“It has always been that we talked about the World Cup the summer of. We have always been very focused on what’s in front of us and we still are but I suppose you can see through the group in the young fresh faces, the younger generation coming through, that it is a focus.

“And why shouldn’t it be? It’s the biggest thing that you can do in the game and everyone wants to get there and do well in it.

“It’s great to have it there in the back of your mind as something to strive for because if you view it as a journey, well then there is always that end point that you can strive towards.”

As the captain, this shift in mindset sits contentedly with Sexton.

“It’s great. You have to be open-minded enough to do things in different ways. I like it. It’s what other countries do. You can see it in their selections.

“But we have a duty that we want to win games now as well. I think every country has to find that balance. That’s not up to me, it’s up to the coaching staff.”

But, as captain, Sexton said he has endorsed “everything about this environment so far,”, and added: “Hopefully we can kick it off to a new level coming up.”

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