Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said he hopes to go out on “a high, not a whimper” after he signed a contract extension through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup on Tuesday.
Sexton will be 38 by the time rugby’s quadrennial showpiece tournament kicks off in France and there had been speculation over whether he would carry on till then.
“I wanted to keep the dream going,” Sexton said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“I do not want to go out on a whimper and hopefully I finish on a high at the World Cup.
“I am delighted to be able to say it has come to fruition (the contract) as I have been beating round the bush for six months.
“I was always nervous talking about the Rugby World Cup.
“I want to make the most of my last 18 months of my career and to do that is to work hard and get my body in the best shape possible.”
Sexton is rightly regarded as a talisman both by his country and province Leinster and was crowned world player of the year in 2018.
He made his international debut against Fiji in November 2009 and has represented Ireland at three Rugby World Cups, in 2011, 2015 and 2019.
The latter tournament has proved a bugbear for both Ireland and Sexton – they have yet to reach the semi-finals.
Indeed after being hammered by New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup Sexton remarked the manner of the defeat will be “raw for four years.”
“One of the biggest factors for me was talking to fellows who had retired after a World Cup and the disappointment they felt at not performing,” he said on Tuesday, of his decision to carry on till 2023.
“Agewise a lot of players performed at the top of their game well into their thirties – take Richie McCaw and Brad Thorn, they won the World Cup trophy aged 34 and 36.”
Sexton is a two-time British and Irish Lions tourist, in 2013 and 2017, and has won three Six Nations titles with Ireland – including the 2018 Grand Slam – and five European Cups with Leinster.
A lost puppy
David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, said Sexton had proved in his performances since the 2019 World Cup that he was still one of the world’s top players.
“Johnny’s performances continue to be of the highest standard and he remains an integral member of the Ireland and Leinster squads,” said Nucifora.
“He has always been a leader on the field and in the past two years since taking on the Ireland captaincy his leadership off it has been top class.”
Sexton’s first match in his final 18 months chapter of his career will be the daunting Six Nations clash with England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Both sides have lost a match apiece but are still in with a chance of winning the title though France hold the whip hand with three wins from three matches.
England head coach Eddie Jones has labelled the Irish as favourites for the game.
“It is irrelevant,” said Sexton. “We have not won many times over there in the recent past.
“This game will be decided by who can put their best performance out there.
“We will prepare down to the finest detail such as the atmosphere that is going to hit us and their intensity.
“It will be a great test to see if we learned lessons from the French game (Ireland lost 30-24 in Paris) and if we can adapt in an away stadium.”
Sexton also cast an eye further ahead after the World Cup.
“I will be able to have a beer or a glass of wine a bit more often,” he said with a smile.
“It has been an absolute dream to do what I have done and for so long as I have I pinch myself.
“When I hang up my boots I will be like a lost puppy but hopefully not for too long.”