Ireland: Brian O’Driscoll hopes Johnny Sexton gets fitting World Cup swansong
The legendary Ireland centre Brian O’Driscoll believes that Johnny Sexton could finish his career in even grander style at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
O’Driscoll famously played his final game for his country during the 2014 Six Nations, where they claimed the title with a victory against France in Paris.
Sexton is potentially playing his last Championship match in this weekend’s Grand Slam decider against England but, unlike his former team-mate, the pivot also has a World Cup to look forward to.
Ireland will be one of the favourites for the global tournament in France and lifting the Webb Ellis Cup would be a remarkable way to finish.
“It’s very difficult to compare like for like – knowing that it was my final game against France, that was going to be it,” the 44-year-old said.
“I’m sure his emotions will be very different at the World Cup; hopefully in the knockout stages, hopefully in the final, depending on what way the result goes.
“You’ve got this unbelievable elation and next level elation for him if they do get to a final and manage to win.
“Without trying to get into his head as to how he’s feeling, I think in your final year when you know it’s the end, for all of the lasts, there’s an extra dimension to the games.
“There’s an extra thought about wanting to sign off, particularly for a competitive game in the Aviva, with a Grand Slam at stake, you don’t need to hype it any more, you really don’t.”
O’Driscoll insists that Sexton won’t get caught up in the emotion of this weekend’s occasion, knowing that there is a job to be done.
“I don’t think it comes into his head. He’s been there and done it. He’s a pretty cool customer,” the former centre said.
“It would be brilliant for him to get to do that first of all, and then to do it at home.
“I know Ravenhill in 1948, that’s where they won that Grand Slam, but we had to win away from home in 2009 and ’18. To be able to see it in the Aviva and for the team to be there in front of their families and all of their friends would make it all the more special.
“This team is a real process team so I think they just back themselves in what they’re doing and that will look after the result at the end – not think about trophy lifts, or laps of honour or any of that stuff, the stuff that will transpire if you get all the other parts right.
“For them this week, it’s genuinely about doing a good day each day and then letting rip on Saturday.
“Just because there’s a game of big magnitude, you can’t change your habits, you can’t change what you do.
“If anything, you revert to what is tried and tested and has brought them to this point.”
Celebrating Six Nations success
Although Ireland have bigger ambitions this year, O’Driscoll says that a Six Nations title, with a Grand Slam going with it, should very much be cherished.
“Listen, I don’t like to use the term another box ticked, it’s far from it,” O’Driscoll said.
“We’ve only got three Slams in our history so this is significant, but it’s another stepping stone onto something that they want to achieve later on in the year as well.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that’s still an enormous achievement to win a Grand Slam, so taking that in isolation alone, this is a big achievement for the team in a World Cup year.
“But it just adds another layer of confidence to where this side is going and what they’re doing, and that they’re going on the right path and that they need to continue evolving as they have done over the last couple of years to stay ahead of the curve.
“So it would be significant because a series win in New Zealand, some of them have won European Cups but to win a Grand Slam is significant in anyone’s career.
“You know, we went 61 years without winning one so to have two in Ireland, there’s only a couple of guys who have two in their careers and so this is an opportunity for a few more to get a second under their belt and for guys to get their first chance to winning the ultimate Six Nations prize.”
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