‘Doing it for Johnny’ adds to Ireland’s Rugby World Cup motivation

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will retire after the World Cup (Adam Davy/PA)
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will retire after the World Cup (Adam Davy/PA)

Caelan Doris says attempting to send Johnny Sexton into retirement as a world champion is adding to Ireland’s motivation ahead of a mouthwatering quarter-final against New Zealand.

Influential captain Sexton is due to call time on his distinguished career following the Rugby World Cup in France, meaning any match now could be his last.

The 38-year-old fly-half used his personal situation to help fire up his team ahead of last weekend’s pivotal Pool B win over Scotland in Paris.

Ireland are back at Stade de France for a quarter-final showdown with the All Blacks on Saturday evening and number eight Doris acknowledges ‘doing it for Johnny’ is part of the squad’s thinking.

“Yeah, it is,” said the 25-year-old, who was sitting alongside Leinster team-mate Dan Sheehan.

“Even last week, building into Scotland, there was a chance that could be his last ever game, he said that to us as a group. And what an unbelievable player and leader he’s been for Ireland for so many years.

“I think all the players will agree that the standards he sets raise everyone else’s game and he’s almost like having another coach on the pitch.

Caelan Doris plays alongside Johnny Sexton for club and country
Caelan Doris plays alongside Johnny Sexton for club and country (Adam Davy/PA)

“He seems to have a bird’s-eye view, he seems to see everything regardless of where you were and catches any mistake.

“You can’t get away with anything with him around, which is obviously a good thing for the most part, except when he’s shouting at you for those few seconds.

“He definitely brings us to another level.

“The way he prepares for a game, he absolutely loves the game and puts everything into it, he’s the utmost professional and he’s been a great role model for the two of us.”

Ireland have won three of four meetings with New Zealand during the reign of head coach Andy Farrell, including last summer’s historic 2-1 tour success.

However, the Irish were thrashed 46-14 by the All Blacks at the same stage of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

With plenty on the line this weekend, suggestions of a spying scandal were downplayed after a photographer, who has been working on behalf of the Irish Rugby Football Union, attended a New Zealand training session open to members of the media.

Ireland assistant coach Mike Catt was unaware of the incident on Thursday when questioned, before World Rugby’s media operations manager Greg Thomas cut in.

Ireland are preparing to face New Zealand
Ireland are preparing to face New Zealand (Adam Davy/PA)

“The rules say yes (it is allowed), as long as they’re standing with the rest of the photographers, they can,” said Thomas, who was chairing the press conference.

Mack Hansen took part in Ireland’s captain’s run in the French capital on Friday morning after sitting out training earlier in the week due to a calf issue sustained against the Scots.

Catt insists the Australia-born wing, whose right leg was heavily strapped, is fit and ready to start, while James Ryan (wrist) and Robbie Henshaw (hamstring) could return to contention at the semi-final stage.

Ireland are favourites for what is expected to be a tight and tense affair against the All Blacks.

Catt says the team have contemplated the prospect of extra-time, which could be followed by 10 minutes of sudden death, and joked that a handful of forwards would be selected in the unlikely event of a kicking competition.

“We have spoken about it,” he said. “The players know who they are: Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Beirne! They’ve definitely put in an extra couple hours of kicking!

“It’s one of those that players are aware of it. It’s a long way to get to that situation.

“You’d like to think in the golden point (sudden death) in 10 minutes one side would take their opportunity and take points.

“The players who are on the pitch know who they are and fingers crossed we put them through the middle.”