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6 Nations

Sexton Enjoying Captaincy, But ‘It’s Still A Work In Progress’

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He may have 108 Ireland caps under his belt, but beginning an international week with 49 players in camp and two southern hemisphere sides to play at the weekend is a new experience for Jonathan Sexton.

Currently training at the IRFU High Performance Centre, the extended Ireland squad are gearing up for the Ireland ‘A’ team’s clash with the All Blacks XV on Friday, swiftly followed by the main course of Ireland against South Africa the following evening.

It is quite an exercise in logistics to get that many bodies out on the training pitch and ensure quality preparation for both the ‘A’ and senior teams, as the much-anticipated Bank of Ireland Nations Series gets ready for kick-off.

Like the summer tour when Ireland’s fringe players got game-time against the Māori All Blacks, it is a big collective effort and Sexton hopes they can reap the rewards from both fixtures at the RDS and the Aviva Stadium.

“The coaches did a good job,” he said of Tuesday’s well-populated training session. “I wasn’t envisaging how it was going to work, but they did it well in terms of we were almost rotating as teams.

“Almost four teams at the start into two. It was good, it was different. It’s a unique week. We had a unique experience in the summer and now we’ve got another one now with two matches going on. Big game Friday night and then a big game Saturday.

“So it’s good, it’s what we want. We don’t want anything to be the same because you get comfortable then and come the World Cup you’re not ready for anything changing. So, we’re testing ourselves and trying not to keep things too familiar.”

Ireland A Tickets On Sale

Following on from their historic series win in New Zealand, Andy Farrell’s men are back in the familiar surroundings of the Aviva Stadium, hoping to claim the scalp of the reigning Rugby World Cup champions like their predecessors did.

Ireland boast a proud record of defeating past Webb Ellis Cup holders between tournaments, with memorable victories over Australia (2002), England (2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007), South Africa (2009) and New Zealand (2016 and 2018).

Sexton was involved in those last three triumphs and as he enters the final year of his Test career, the 37-year-old says it still means so much to him to run out with the national team at Irish Rugby HQ.

Every time you get to play at home, in front of the Irish public and family and friends in the Aviva, they’re the most special days of your career.

“It’s something you never take lightly. Again, when you come towards the end (of your career), it’s even more special. You try and cherish it even more.

“But the nerves are still there, the excitement is still there. So it’s not that much different to how it usually is.”

The St. Mary’s College clubman got some decent match minutes into his legs with Leinster in recent weeks, including full games against both the Cell C Sharks and Munster.

He is looking forward to taking on South Africa for the first time since 2017, especially after missing out on last year’s British & Irish Lions tour. Of course, the sides’ Rugby World Cup pool game next year looms large on the horizon.

“I feel good. In the first two games of the season, you’re always expecting a couple of mistakes in a lot of parts of the game, and I definitely had them in the first couple of games.

“It’s important I learn from them, build on what was good and try to put it all together on Saturday. If we got a win on Saturday, it would be great. If we didn’t, we’d learn from it.

“We’re going to learn both ways, we’re going to learn about South Africa, see what it’s like to play against this type of team. We haven’t played against them in a few years. I think it’s what we need.

“They’re in our group obviously in the World Cup and we just need to make sure that we take learnings from it, win, lose or draw. But we’re going out there to try and win the game, don’t get me wrong.”

Sexton has been Ireland’s captain since the start of the Andy Farrell era in early 2020. His winning ratio as skipper is an impressive 78%, the highpoints so far coming this year with the Triple Crown and New Zealand tour success.

Always striving to improve as a player and a leader, he said: “I enjoy it (the captaincy). There is a lot of extra responsibility and extra meetings, making sure you’re on top of the leadership group, making sure you’re organising different things.

“If I didn’t have it, I’d miss it. At times you go, ‘do I need it?’, but yeah, I think I do. I’m enjoying it. It’s still a work in progress, I don’t think anyone’s ever going to be the perfect captain.

“There’s part of my leadership that I need to work on, and there’s parts that are good. It’s just about getting feedback and making sure you’re always striving to improve.”

The Dubliner, who has captained Leinster since 2018, admits he is fortunate to have a strong group of trusty lieutenants around him, a number of whom have captained their provinces or grown into leadership roles. He added:

I lean heavily on the guys around me. You work well as a team, there’s guys that have come out of themselves like Tadhg Furlong. He’s really come out of his shell over the last couple of years.

“He kind of got ‘put’ in the leadership group – I don’t think he wanted anything to do with it! – but he got put in there and he got forced into leading and he’s doing an amazing job.

James Ryan has captained Ireland, Garry Ringrose has captained Leinster, Iain Henderson captain of Ulster, Pete (O’Mahony) captain of Munster, so it’s a good group. It makes my job much easier, we do it as a team.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


6 Nations

England side to face Ireland in Six Nations

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Captain Owen Farrell will start at fly half, Manu Tuilagi returns to the side at inside centre with Henry Slade at outside centre. There is a first England start for Henry Arundell on the left wing, Anthony Watson is at right wing, and Freddie Steward is full back.

In the forward pack Lewis Ludlam is named vice-captain and is flanker alongside Jack Willis. Alex Dombrandt is at No. 8. In the same front row that has started each game of the championship, vice-captain Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler are at prop and Jamie George is at hooker. David Ribbans starts at lock with Maro Itoje.

Dan Cole is in line to make his 100th appearance for England after being named as replacement. Cole made his England debut in the Six Nations in February 2010. He has gone on to play in three Rugby World Cups and has won three Guinness Six Nations titles.

Nick Isiekwe and Joe Marchant return to the bench, along with Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Ben Curry, Alex Mitchell and Marcus Smith.

“We travel to Dublin to face an Ireland team on Saturday that has the chance to secure a Grand Slam Championship victory at home for the first time” said Borthwick.

“We know that after the bitter disappointment of the display against an exceptional France team last week, we will have to be much improved to meet the challenge of playing the side presently ranked number one in the world.

“However, I have witnessed an England squad determined to make amends for the defeat at Twickenham, and I am confident that the team announced today will once again want to show the sort of resilience and attitude that brought us victory in Wales.”

Team to face Ireland

Starting

15. Freddie Steward

14. Anthony Watson

13. Henry Slade

12. Manu Tuilagi

11. Henry Arundell

10. Owen Farrell (C)

9. Jack van Poortvliet

1. Ellis Genge (VC)

2. Jamie George

3. Kyle Sinckler

4. Maro Itoje

5. David Ribbans

6. Lewis Ludlam (VC)

7. Jack Willis

8. Alex Dombrandt

Replacements

16. Jack Walker

17. Mako Vunipola

18. Dan Cole

19. Nick Isiekwe

20. Ben Curry

21. Alex Mitchell

22. Marcus Smith

23. Joe Marchant

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6 Nations

Ireland Squad Named For Guinness Six Nations Super Saturday

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Ireland will take on England at a sold-out Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening (Kick-off 5pm) for the chance to claim the Guinness Six Nations Championship title, the Triple Crown and a fourth Men’s Grand Slam title.

World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier will win his 50th cap on Saturday. He lines out in an unchanged back row as Caelan Doris is named to start alongside him and Peter O’Mahony.

In the front row, Dan Sheehan has been passed fit and will start with Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong on either side of the scrum. Rob Herring comes in on the bench in place of Ronan Kelleher.

Ryan Baird, who came on for the injured Iain Henderson in Scotland, will partner James Ryan in the second row with Kieran Treadwell named in the replacements.

Captain Johnny Sexton will be partnered at half-back by Jamison Gibson Park and Robbie Henshaw comes into the centre to play alongside Bundee Aki.  The back three of Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen and James Lowe start for a fifth consecutive Six Nations fixture.

Sexton equalled Ronan O’Gara’s Six Nations Championship all-time points scorer record (557 points) against Scotland and can become the outright top points scorer against England this weekend.

Jimmy O’Brien come into the match day 23 to join Cian Healy, Tom O’Toole, Jack Conan, Conor Murray and Ross Byrne who all featured last weekend in Murrayfield.

Ireland’s final game of the Championship will be broadcast live on VIRGIN and ITV television and RTE and BBCNI radio.

IRELAND Team (v England, 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Saturday 18th March, 2023, KO 17.00 (IST))

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 29 caps
14. Mack Hansen (Connacht/Corinthians) 13 caps
13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 61 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 45 caps
11. James Lowe (Leinster) 19 caps
10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 112 caps (c)
9. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 24 caps

1. Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 52 caps
2. Dan Sheehan (Leinster/Lansdowne) 16 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 64 caps
4. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 10 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 52 caps
6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 93 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 49 caps
8. Caelan Doris (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 27 caps

Replacements

16. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 33 caps
17. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 122 caps
18. Tom O’Toole (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 8 caps
19. Kieran Treadwell (Ulster/Ballymena) 10 caps
20. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 37 caps
21. Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 104 caps
22. Ross Byrne (Leinster/UCD) 18 caps
23. Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster/Naas) 4 caps

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

Wales name much changed team for France

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Head coach Warren Gatland has named his Wales senior men’s XV for the final round Guinness Six Nations match against France this Saturday at the Stade de France in Paris (KO 2.45pm GMT live on ITV and S4C).

No 8 Taulupe Faletau will win his 100th Wales cap having made his debut against the Barbarians in June 2011 and won his 50th cap against Fiji at Rugby World Cup 2015.

Dillon Lewis is in line to make his 50th senior international appearance for Wales from the bench. George North – also in the Wales starting line-up that faced the Barbarians when Faletau made his debut – partners Nick Tompkins in the Wales midfield.

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Louis Rees-Zammit makes his third start for Wales at full back. Rio Dyer and Josh Adams are selected on the wings.

Dan Biggar returns from injury at fly half. Rhys Webb, who made his first start in this year’s Championship against Italy, continues at scrum half.

There are two changes to the forward pack that started last weekend’s outing at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Alun Wyn Jones is named in the second row, while Aaron Wainwright will make his first appearance this Six Nations coming in at blind-side flanker. Jac Morgan has been ruled out with an ankle injury picked up in training.

Among the Wales replacements Bradley Roberts and Gareth Thomas join Lewis in providing the front row cover.

Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell are the other forwards in the match day 23. Leigh Halfpenny is named one of the Wales replacement backs, along with Tomos Williams and Owen Williams.

Gatland said: “Last weekend was really important for us getting a win in the Six Nations and building a bit of confidence. It was a step in the right direction but there’s still lots for us to work on.

“We’ve worked hard on a few things in terms of tidying some of the defensive lapses that we’ve made and getting those things right. We’re still working hard on our attack.

“I think France last weekend put in probably one of the best performances seen in a long, long time. They’re the number two team in the world. They bring a really physical approach to the way they play and they’ve tended to start well.

“So that’s the important thing. We’ve got to go out there and start well, make sure we’re in that arm wrestle with them and give ourselves that opportunity.

“They’re a team that kick the ball a lot, so we’ve also got to make sure that our backfield is right and we’ve got to be good in the air.”

On Faletau reaching 100 caps for Wales Gatland added: “Toby has been a fantastic servant for Welsh rugby. Even though he’s reaching 100 caps he’s still pretty quiet, but he’s incredibly well respected by the players for what he’s achieved.

“I remember in the early years he was just a constant and he became absolutely world class in terms of his performances.

“There’s a lot of things that people don’t see in terms of his ability to read the game – he’ll run support lines that people don’t see. You see that when you’re going back through the videos and there have been times where he’s been on the end of a pass and scored tries. We saw that last week, Rhys Webb makes a break and Toby scores a try.

“Getting 100 caps is a great recognition for what he’s achieved in the game. It’s fantastic for him and his family and hopefully we can go out there and give him a really good performance and something for him to remember.”

Wales senior men’s XV to play France in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 18 March KO 2.45pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C

15 Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby – 24 caps)
14 Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 48 caps)
13 George North (Ospreys – 112 caps)
12 Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 26 caps)
11 Rio Dyer (Dragons – 6 caps)
10 Dan Biggar (Toulon – 106 caps)
9 Rhys Webb (Ospreys – 39 caps);
1 Wyn Jones (Scarlets – 47 caps)
2 Ken Owens (Scarlets – 90 caps) CAPT
3 Tomas Francis (Ospreys – 70 caps)
4 Adam Beard (Ospreys – 45 caps)
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys – 157 caps)
6 Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 36 caps)
7 Justin Tipuric (Ospreys – 92 caps)
8 Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby – 99 caps)

Replacements
16 Bradley Roberts (Dragons – 4 caps)
17 Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 20 caps)
18 Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Rugby – 49 caps)
19 Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 5 caps)
20 Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 8 caps)
21 Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 44 caps)
22 Owen Williams (Ospreys – 6 caps)
23 Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets – 98 caps)

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


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