Sexton confident Irish can again sit at rugby's top table under Farrell

·3-min read

Johnny Sexton admitted Ireland are not at the top table of rugby yet, but the Irish captain was confident they are on the right track under head coach Andy Farrell.

The 35-year-old fly-half created the first of Ireland's three tries and the one that turned the game round as they beat Scotland 31-16 to take third place in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday.

It was a crucial victory for Farrell, who had been criticised for lacking a specific gameplan since he took over from Joe Schmidt after last year's World Cup.

Sexton acknowledged that the three away defeats this year, twice to England and once to France -- the latter costing them the Six Nations title, had hurt and showed the Irish how far off they are from back to being the best in Europe.

Under Schmidt -- with Farrell as assistant coach -- the Irish won the Six Nations title three times including the 2018 Grand Slam.

The 2018 success, only the third Grand Slam in their history, began with victory in Paris and was sealed with an away win in England.

"As a team we are not at the top table yet as we have not beaten England or France away and that is what you need to do to be up there," said Sexton.

"I am confident in the team and coaching staff and that we will get there.

"We have got some tough matches coming up in the Six Nations (Wales and Scotland away) but I am pleased with how we finished.

"I am pleased with the way we are evolving though some might disagree."

Sexton, whose return to the starting XV after missing two games with a hamstring strain galvanised the team, said it was not a case of comparing this team to the one that achieved the Grand Slam.

"No, we're judging ourselves by the highest of standards," he said.

"We learned some valuable lessons, some harsh lessons in those big games away from home.

"Yeah, we wish we were in there with a Six Nations trophy under our belt, we felt it was there for the taking and we'll live with that forever.

"There is no one that hurts more than us when we don't perform on the big days."

- 'Frightened about the future' -

Farrell for his part was hugely relieved to have won after being well beaten by England a fortnight ago and then a sub-standard performance in the win over Georgia last Sunday.

"We are a work in progress, as I suppose it should always be," he said.

"It's well documented about the number of players we've used and a few injuries along the way.

"We've had a pretty diverse group during this time as far as maturity, age-wise, regarding international rugby.

"I felt that gap has really closed and we've made some massive learnings from that and that sends a massive statement overall."

There has been concern several of the Irish players' form had been affected by anxiety over their futures with contracts coming to an end and the parlous state of Irish Rugby Football Union's finances due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I've not heard any murmurs at all regarding apprehension or them being frightened about the future," said Farrell.

"They've been top class.

"The attitude, the togetherness of the players, the want to get better, the want to learn, has been amazing.

"That would be the biggest thing for me coming out of this period, which stands us in massive good stead."

His Scotland counterpart Gregor Townsend was left disappointed at not securing the Scots' first win in Dublin in a decade.

He said the yellow card for Duncan Taylor at the end of the first-half after they had largely dominated had been pivotal.

"I thought the first 35 minutes it was some of the best rugby we played all year and above expectations," he said.

"It is disappointing to lose but overall we know now we have a bigger depth of squad which is encouraging."