Variety key for Sexton if Irish are to lay World Cup ghosts to rest

Variety is the key if Ireland are to finally make an impact at the Rugby World Cup for they have "got to be able to beat different teams playing different games", said their captain Johnny Sexton.

The 37-year-old fly-half inspired the Irish to a historic away series win over New Zealand earlier this year.

However, he says his number one ranked side in the world need to adapt their gameplan against world champions South Africa -- who adding extra spice to the Test are in the same World Cup pool -- on Saturday at Lansdowne Road.

A year out from the World Cup Sexton is all too aware of Ireland's dreams of glory ending in bitter disappointment -- they have yet to reach the semi-finals of the sport's quadrennial showpiece.

The criticism of former coach Joe Schmidt despite guiding them to the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam was his tactics were too rigid and once opponents got the measure of them there was no alternative plan.

His successor Andy Farrell has given the team more freedom to think on their feet during games.

"Obviously we referred to the summer series as the biggest test you can face in rugby," said Sexton of the All Blacks tour.

"It is in many ways. But it is a different test coming this Saturday.

"If we want to do special things over the next 12 months we have got to be able to beat different teams playing different games and they are very different to New Zealand.

"They are almost unique. They are the nearest team to England maybe in terms of how they play.

"It will be tough."

Sexton says his time in France with Racing 92 (2013-15) playing against big physical teams helps him when he confronts the Springboks.

"What I learned was, when you're playing against teams like that you need to be so together," he said.

"You need to be on the same page, your detail needs to be spot on to pull them apart."

- 'New to the stage' -

Sexton said the South African style of getting right into their opponents faces made Tests against them a supreme test of nerve.

"You look at South Africa and they're flying off the line, putting you under as much pressure," he said.

"You’ve got to try and stick to your system, get into those holes.

"You've got to do it better, because they don't allow you a second.

"That was what I learned in France, and we're going to have to be right on top of that this week."

Sexton first played the Springboks back in 2009 at Croke Park when he was a Test novice -- since then he has gone on to break the century of caps landmark and won the 2018 world player of the year award.

However, in a match played in dense fog Sexton, who had been preferred to long-time number one Ronan O'Gara, showed what a talent he was by kicking them to a 15-10 victory over the world champions.

In another similarity the respective Springbok squads had overcome the touring British & Irish Lions (2009 and 2021).

"It's almost the identical fixture 13 years on. It's mad to think I'm still going.

"I remember looking at guys like (Springbok lock) Victor Matfield and going 'Do I belong on this pitch?'

"I was very new to the stage, but I loved it and it gave me the drive to go on and play more games for Ireland."

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