The Racing Metro star, widely regarded as the premier outside-half in European rugby, had a rare off day as Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam hopes were ended in a 23-16 defeat at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday.
Sexton suffered the ignominy of being fended off and sent crashing to the ground by Wales centre Jonathan Davies in the fifth minute, and he was outshone by opposite number Dan Biggar throughout the contest.
He probably wasn’t as accurate as he normally is, but that hasn’t stopped him working really hard on it this week.
Joe Schmidt on Johnny Sexton’s performance against Wales
Ireland’s trademark aerial bombardment was smothered by the Wales backline early in the game as Leigh Halfpenny and co demonstrated their catching abilities under the high ball.
With Ireland struggling to break down a resilient Welsh defence in the second half, it was Sexton’s indiscipline at the breakdown that ended over 40 continuous phases of pressure in the Wales 22 as he flew over the top of a ruck, which was easy for referee Wayne Barnes to see and penalsie.
Ireland regrouped at their Carton House base on Monday and there has been a renewed intensity about their preparations for the final round of the championship with four countries still in contention for the new trophy.
And Schmidt admits Sexton was disappointed with his performance, but has set about putting that right in training this week ahead of Ireland’s final game against Scotland at BT Murrayfield.
“With the amount of effort he puts into his preparations, for things not to go well for him is a massive frustration,” Schmidt said at his press conference on Thursday afternoon.
“He was disappointed with those aspects of his performance.
“I think he defended well, apart from one tackle where Jonathan Davies got away from him, and he shut down a lot of their play with some good tackles, as he did with the England plays as well.
“On the other side of the ball, he probably wasn’t as accurate as he normally is, but that hasn’t stopped him working really hard on it this week.
“Anyone, after a performance that has caused them some frustration, they just need to keep their confidence and know that they’re a quality player, and they’ll go out and they’ll do their preparation to make sure they can deliver as best they can.”
While their ambitions on retaining their title aren’t entirely in their hands, Ireland head to Edinburgh this afternoon as overwhelming favourites to leave on Saturday with a victory against winless Scotland, who are out to avoid a Six Nations whitewash.
I owe a fair bit to him and learnt a fair bit from coaching with him. I know he knows me very, very well, and I’ve no doubt that he’s got a few things cooked up that will make life difficult for us.
Joe Schmidt on Scotland head coach Vern Cotter
Both sides went into the tournament with much to offer, but Scotland have fallen to four defeats from four despite having chances to win at least three of those contests against France, Wales and Italy.
And there is an added edge to this contest with Schmidt going head-to-head with compatriot, mentor and former Bay of Plenty and Clermont Auvergne colleague Vern Cotter.
The Ireland head coach expects that Cotter and his players won’t be doing Ireland any favours come kick-off at 14:30 on Saturday afternoon with all eyes on Rome, Edinburgh and London for a four-way shoot-out to lift the new Six Nations trophy.
“The two colours are definitely green and blue for this match for VC and myself,” he said.
“I owe a fair bit to him and learnt a fair bit from coaching with him.
“I know he knows me very, very well, and I’ve no doubt that he’s got a few things cooked up that will make life difficult for us.
“He’s got players who are very capable of doing that.
“Scotland have named a particularly good side; a really balanced side, and I think there’s a bit of desperation from both teams, which will make for a really combative test match.
“They were unlucky – they had a try disallowed against Wales, got very close to France in Paris.
“They were beaten at the death by Italy, and stayed really competitive with England for a long time.
“To be 13-10 up at Twickenham at half-time, I think any team in the championship would take that as a half-time result.
“Yes, England got a couple of tries in the second half and maybe made a couple of linebreaks, but Scotland are incredibly hard to score against, because even from linebreaks they tend to scramble well and stay competitive.”
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