Ireland need to better Twickenham 2018 performance to beat England – Sexton
Johnny Sexton has warned that Ireland may need to surpass their monumental Grand Slam-clinching performance of two years ago to enjoy more Twickenham glory against England.
The Irish have the opportunity to complete the Triple Crown during Sunday’s tantalising Guinness Six Nations showdown in south-west London.
Fly-half Sexton was part of the 2018 team who sealed a tournament clean sweep with a memorable 24-15 success at the home of English rugby.
But the 34-year-old believes Eddie Jones’ World Cup finalists have improved significantly since then and now present a far tougher proposition.
“With a Grand Slam on the line and to put in a performance that we did that day was extra special, and it’s going to take probably better than that to go and do the same,” said Sexton.
“I think they’re in a much better place. They’ve obviously been to a World Cup final.
“They’re talking about wanting to be the best team ever, all these things, so they’re in a different stage of their path or whatever you want to call it than they were then.
“I think they were going through a poor Six Nations that time whereas they’ve got everything to play for this time.
“They’re just further along the road with Eddie Jones as well.”
Ireland’s last two meetings with England have been far less successful.
Under former head coach Joe Schmidt and as reigning Grand Slam champions, they were beaten 32-20 in Dublin in the first round of last year’s Six Nations, before being thrashed 57-15 in August during a World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham.
Leinster man Sexton feels it will be important to keep the majority of an 82,000 capacity crowd quiet this weekend, while rejecting suggestions Ireland are physically inferior to their hosts.
“When they get those purple patches, the noise in the stadium, the way their players grow when that happens at times, it will feel like it’s just wave after wave coming at you,” he said.
“They’re big men, big ball carriers. That’s what we’re preparing for really, how we can stop that and then be able to thrust it back at them.
“I think physically we can match them, but there are lots of things that need to go into matching them physically.
“I wouldn’t say they’re way bigger than us or way stronger than us, but we’re going to have to find ways to deal with their physicality and I think we’ve got some of it ourselves.”
Ireland’s preparations for the game suffered a minor disruption due to lock Iain Henderson, who started the home wins over Scotland and Wales, dropping out following the birth of his son.
Henderson’s absence sees Devin Toner recalled to the second row for his 70th cap and a first start since his shock omission from Schmidt’s World Cup squad.
While some younger team-mates played down the importance of the Triple Crown earlier in the week, skipper Sexton is eager to lift the trophy after previously not fully appreciating the achievement.
“It’s huge. I didn’t win one until a couple of years ago,” he said.
“They’re difficult things to win, obviously when we (Ireland) had a period of winning them a lot (in the 2000s) you take them for granted.
“It’s been at the forefront of our thoughts.
“You’ve got the chance to lift the trophy for Ireland and I know it’s not the biggest trophy you can win, in terms of the Six Nations is bigger or the Grand Slam, but it’s big for us, yeah.”