Johnny Sexton believes Ireland can now aim even higher following the victory against England in Dublin that sealed a fourth grand slam in the nation’s history.
Sexton confirmed he had played his final Six Nations match having steered his side to a 29-16 win. Ireland finished seven points ahead of second-placed France, while the 37-year-old became the record points scorer in the tournament’s history, surpassing Ronan O’Gara’s record.
“This is a high point, but I hope it’s not the highest point,” Sexton said. “Roll on the World Cup – that’s what we need to focus on now … This is part of the journey.
“It’s very special, like the series in New Zealand was very special … We need to keep our feet on the ground, keep building. There’s a lot of guys that have been injured who are going to come back and put pressure on the guys who’ve been playing.”
Sitting alongside Sexton the Ireland head coach, Andy Farrell, paid a glowing tribute to his captain. “It’s unbelievably fitting that in my opinion the best player ever to play for Ireland is able to sign off with a grand slam on St Patrick’s Day, in front of his home crowd,” Farrell said. “A lot of stars have aligned over the past eight weeks.”
Farrell said it was a weird feeling to have clinched a clean sweep and that he had felt a duty to deliver victory. “I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or be a bit sad,” Farrell said. “It’s a weird feeling. I’m just delighted for the boys to get it over the line. It meant so much to them, especially being here [in Dublin], only the fourth grand slam in Irish history.
“It’s a special occasion … We felt a duty that we couldn’t let people down. It’s a sense of relief to get the job done. Immensely proud. Grand slams are not just won on nights like this – they’re won over the time that we’ve been together.”
Asked for his opinion on the decision to send off Freddie Steward for a challenge on Hugo Keenan, Farrell said: “It’s the rules, isn’t it? It’s unfortunate but it’s the rules and I suppose we’ve got to trust the people [the officials] who see it for what it is.”
Sexton said of the visitors’ efforts seven days after being hammered at home by France: “Fair play to England, the way they turned up, they were really good. To bounce back in that fashion from last week speaks a lot about their captain and coach. They made it tough – and we made it tough for ourselves. We might just enjoy it for 48 hours, and not worry about it too much.”