JOHNNY SEXTON has insisted Ireland’s trip to Portugal is not a holiday as he vows to secure his spot for their Six Nations opener against Wales.
Sexton had his first game on Saturday – for Leinster against Bath – since Ireland’s win over New Zealand in November.
He was sidelined with ankle and knee injuries before becoming one of the Leinster players facing Covid-19.
But his performance at The Rec showed he is ready to kick for his country as Ireland prepares for a February 5 clash with Wales at Quinta Da Lago.
“We go there to work, it’s not a holiday camp. It’s just going to a really good facility and we haven’t been apart for a long time as a team,” Sexton said. .
“We’ll go through and prepare really well there, then come back and get ready for the game against Wales in Dublin.”
Asked if young players like Ulster’s Michael Lowry and Connacht’s Mack Hansen would add ‘fun’ to the squad, Sexton said: “It adds fun and it also adds quality.
“Two guys have done well for their province and that’s why they’re here, I don’t think they were picked for fun.
“It’s great to have new faces, in the years we’ve been successful we’ve always brought in new people, promoted those with jerseys from the previous campaign and created a competitive environment for the players. mind.”
Of his own struggles, Sexton said: “I came back from a knee injury, ready to walk and then picked it up and was sick for a week or so with it.
“Then obviously it will take some time to get back to normal, some matches have been cancelled.
“Obviously, the first match back was a European one so I worked hard for that.
It was a shock to the system but I felt much better last week and hopefully now we will train hard this week and it will be another good step in the preparation. mine and I know I need to practice really well to earn my place on the team.
“And it was my overriding focus to be as fit and ready as possible to challenge for that position.”
There’s new competition from a healthy Joey Carbery returning and a recalling Jack Carty, who returned shortly after being out of action since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Andy Farrell said: “Joey has been fighting since week two after injuring his elbow, so he’s very healthy.
“He’s been doing all the ball skills etc continuously and the only thing he has to wait for is it’s completely clear to get back in touch and he’s got that now so all the the system will work.
“Jack has done a great job, definitely this season. Obviously Connacht is playing really well as a team.
“I think what has helped Jack along the way is also the captaincy, the ownership of the armband is new to him, and I think some people will sink or swim with that responsibility.
“It has certainly helped Jack and I have always been impressed by his understanding of the game.
“But there are other parts of his game that have been really successful – his attacking game and his ability to play offensively and play more squarely and cohesively.”
Farrell said Iain Henderson is his only injury suspect but he is not ruled out in the encounter with Wales.
Sexton insists no one will take Wayne Pivac’s side lightly despite the struggling Welsh regions in Europe this season.
“It has no correlation,” he said. I can rewind five or six years when we had the exact same conversation about the provinces of Ireland flying and Welsh struggling, and they beat us to it.
“There was never a correlation between international and provincial performance. When we are in the Irish environment, we put on a shirt and we are a team and we leave our provinces at the door.
“I was a bit surprised by the question when they had such a successful Six Nations last year, minutes away from a Grand Slam and also had a great November.
“We’re playing against champions and that’s what we have in mind.”
https://www.thesun.ie/sport/rugby-union/8265730/johnny-sexton-ireland-wales-six-nations-2/ Johnny Sexton is ready to fight for Ireland’s starting spot in Portugal training camp ahead of Six Nations vs Wales opener