Ireland's Sexton relishing All Black challenge

Johnny Sexton (Getty Images)
Johnny Sexton (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Flyhalf Johnny Sexton says it is important that Ireland show in the clash with the All Blacks that they are competitive ahead of the World Cup.

Sexton is vital to Ireland's hopes against the All Blacks, that's why he's among seven regular starters who been left out of the side to play Italy in Chicago next week.

With scrumhalf Conor Murray ruled out, Sexton's control of the side will be even more important to Ireland's hopes.

He knows what to expect from the All Blacks at Lansdowne Road on November 17.

"Before you play then you know it's going to be the toughest game of the season, always," he told

Sexton first played the All Blacks in 2010, on their June tour of New Zealand, and then in a return Test at Aviva Stadium in November.

Ahead 13-9 after 32 minutes, Ireland then faced the All Blacks turning on a pre-halftime assault which took them out to a 19-13 lead before they won the game 38-18.

"I vomited at halftime," Sexton said.

"It was just an incredible pace to the game, just every collision was ferocious. Every collision was like the first collision of the game."

But in time, things have changed for Ireland, they have beaten the All Blacks for the first time, in Chicago, and he was part of a British & Irish Lions team that drew their 2017 series in New Zealand.

"I think our levels of fitness now, and our levels of preparation, have gone up a lot since then," he said.

"We've never beaten them in Ireland, so it would be pretty special to be on the first Irish team to beat them here. And I'm sure the crowd, everyone is looking for tickets and the thought of it…so as players we need to concentrate on the first couple of games but at the same time it's going to be a pretty special occasion, I think."

There's also the small matter of potentially being up against Beauden Barrett, the World Rugby player of the year for the last two years.

"I don't know him really that well, I spoke to him after we played in Chicago and that was the only time I've ever swapped jerseys with the All Blacks," he said.

"He's a nice guy, world player of the year the last two years in a row, he's the guy to catch."

Sexton also had some sympathy for the attention paid to Barrett's goal-kicking.

"I think he gets a bad…even during that Lions tour he got slated for the second Test when he kicked seven from 10 on a windy, wet night in Wellington.

"You know, the game against South Africa (also in Wellington), he only missed a few. But, like, it's one of the hardest stadiums in the world to kick in, the wind can play absolute havoc. I've had sessions there where I've barely got a kick.

"So I think he gets a bit of unfair criticism in his kicking, and if you actually look at his statistics or whatever you want to look at, he's a very good kicker and he's a world class player. To score four tries in a game [against Australia at Eden Park] is incredible, and he had one disallowed as well, so he had potential to score five."

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