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International

Sexton Still Believes Ireland can Peak at the World Cup

Johnny Sexton thinks that the best is yet to come from Ireland despite the bad press they have received in recent times

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Johnny Sexton believes that Ireland can produce their best form during the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year. 

Sexton and co went into this years Six Nations with high expectations after an incredibly impressive 2018 in which they won the Grand Slam, a series victory in Australia and a first ever win over the All Blacks in Dublin.

However, Ireland finished third in this year’s championship and were handed two heavy defeats by England and Wales, but Sexton does not think that the side peaked last year.

“I don’t think we have peaked. I didn’t think we’d peaked when we won the Grand Slam and I didn’t think we’d peaked when we beat the All Blacks either. It’s amazing how opinions can change in the space of a couple of months. We beat the All Blacks and all the talk was ‘nothing’s going to stop us winning the World Cup’ and then three or four games later, we’re the worst team ever and people think we’ve peaked,” he said.

Ireland have never got past the quarterfinals and this tournament will be Joe Schmidt’s and captain Rory Best’s final appearances with the national team. With that in mind Sexton wants to deliver something special this time around.

“We’ve got time together now to really work on things through the summer. For everyone that’s going, it’s unfinished business. We feel we maybe let it slip at the last World Cup and there’s been some regrets from some of the other ones I was at too. In 2011 we had that quarter-final against Wales, knowing that if we won that – and we’d beaten Wales a few times – that we could have had France in the semi-final,” he added.

Sexton also has regrets of missing the last-eight clash in 2015 and believes that the team can learn from the past and deliver this time out.

“Sitting and watching then [against Argentina in 2015] was very, very tough. You want to be out there with the guys, contributing with them and being in the dressing room afterwards was probably the lowest point, watching the lads suffering and not being part of it. So, there’s always those regrets. That’s why we’ll be working extremely hard over the summer, to make sure we try and close those small margins in our favour and make sure we come away having done something special,” he finished.

Sexton will be looking to play a key role in leading Ireland to at least the semi-finals for the first time in their history when they head to Japan in September. However, if they can produce something like the form, they were in last year who knows how far they could go.

International

All Black Star to Turn Out for Grassroots Side

An All Blacks legend is set to play for a grassroots outfit in order to gain match fitness ahead of the Rugby World Cup

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Blues and All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams could play for club side Ponsonby for the next two weekends in a bid to gain vital match fitness ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

Williams has been unfortunate with injuries during this years Super Rugby campaign, limiting him to only three starts, making his last appearance on June 15th following 10 weeks out after undergoing knee surgery.

With such a small amount of rugby under his belt in recent months The New Zealand Herald are reporting that his solution is to play for grassroots side Ponsonby.

It is believed that he has already spoken to and agreed terms to play with former All Black Kevin Senio and sevens star Rocky Khan, who are involved with the club.

Williams is a contracted Counties player and had to seek clearance in order to turn out for Ponsonby, which has apparently been granted.

If he is selected, Williams could face Grammar TEC this weekend and Eden the following week in what would be vital game time for the 33-year-old.

Ponsonby has produced the most All Blacks of any grassroots team, including recent stars Rieko and Akira Ioane.

Williams will be desperate to prove himself with the All Blacks starting their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina on July 21st and will be hoping to make it to Japan in the long run as New Zealand seek their third World Cup in a row.

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International

Ireland Star Returns from Injury Lay-Off

Ireland have been handed a massive boost ahead of their World Cup preparations as a key man has confirmed he is fit and ready to go

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Leinster and Ireland lock Devin Toner has confirmed that he is back in training after a nasty knee injury in what will be a huge relief to Joe Schmidt.

Toner went off injured during Leinster’s PRO 14 semi-final win over rivals Munster last month and there was a fear that he had done serious damage.

However, while speaking at a launch of for Energia’s new official energy partnership with Irish Rugby and being title sponsors to the All-Ireland League, the second rower confirmed he has been back training since last week.

“It’s great, I’d say if there was a game coming up, I’d probably be able to play. I’m not doing contact or mauling or anything. I’m just doing kind of linear running and stuff from side-to-side. If I had to play, I would be able to strap it up and be able to play,” he said.

He went on to discuss how the pre-season is working and how he will be raring to go within the next couple of weeks.

“The way pre-season is, we did a hard two-week block. We have a week next week where we still have to kind of train on our own and then we are back in. When we come back in for that week, I’m hell for leather doing everything then, so it’s grand. It could have been a lot worse than what it was,” he added.

Toner, who was unfortunate earlier in the year as he sustained a long-term ankle injury, and admitted he was worried that he would be missing for a long time once more initially but thankfully things weren’t as bad as he thought.

“To me it felt bad because I have never done my knee before. I felt a little bit of a pop, so I thought it was bad, but because I was able to walk off the pitch and put weight on it, they told me it wasn’t too bad. It was a grade-two medial. A lot of lads have done it and said it was grand and that I would be back in five or six weeks,” he finished.

Toner will certainly be on the plane to Japan as long as he can stay fit as Ireland head to the tournament looking to reach a first semi-final at a minimum.

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Ferris Wary of Growing Number of Overseas Coaches

Former Ireland international Stephen Ferris is concerned about the lack of home-grown coaches in Ireland

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Former Ireland and Ulster back rower Stephen Ferris is happy with Ireland’s appointment of Mike Catt but is worried about the serious lack of Irish coaches in the country.

Catt was confirmed as Ireland’s new attack coach over the weekend come the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.

He became the last piece of future Irish head coach Andy Farrell’s backroom staff, with Farrell set to take the reigns of Ireland head coach when the tournament in Japan concludes.

However, with Farrell and Catt in the Ireland camp and Stuart Lancaster and Graham Rowntree at Leinster and Munster respectively next season, all of England’s coaching group from the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be on Irish shores.

Ferris, who was talking on 2FM’s Game On, admitted that Catt’s appointment makes sense as Farrell prepares to become the main man.

“They probably scoured the market to see who’s out there and Mike Catt obviously has a good relationship with Andy Farrell who is going to become the main man with Ireland. I think it’s a good appointment. Mike Catt is a seasoned professional with 70-odd caps for England and a couple of World Cup finals, so he comes with great pedigree and I think the lads will warm to him nicely,” he said.

However, he also pointed out that he believes there are a bit too many English coaches in Ireland and questioned why there is such a lack of Irish coaches in the backroom staff of the provinces and national set-ups.

“Maybe slightly for me, there’s too much of an English feel around this Irish team at the minute. I think their coaches see teams that are on the up and Munster with the appointment of [Stephen] Larkham as well, he sees that there’s an opportunity there for them to come good. But for me it’s almost like, Jerry Flannery – gone, Felix Jones – gone,” he added.

Ferris ended by saying that he believes Mark McCall could potentially make a future Ireland head coach and also congratulated the English coaches on taking their chances in Ireland.

“I think Mark McCall is the only one that’s really sticking his hand up to say that when Andy Farrell leaves or moves on or gets sacked, you never know, that he might put his hand up to be the next Irish coach. I think fair play to the lads, they’ve seen opportunities, the English guys and they’re going to give it their all and you can’t doubt what they’re going to bring. Look at Lancaster and what he’s brought, Johnny Sexton loves working under him. But fair play to the lads and hopefully they bring a lot to Irish rugby over the coming years,” he finished.

As well as Mike Catt, Farrell has also brought in Leinster man John Fogarty as the national side’s new scrum coach while Simon Easterby and Richie Murphy will continue as forwards specialist and kicking and skills coaches respectively.

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