Johnny Sexton of Ireland acknowledges the crowd after the Rugby World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand at the Tokyo Stadium on 19 October 2019 (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton says Friday’s opening Autumn Nations Cup clash with Wales will be between two sides that are “hurting” after bruising defeats in their final Six Nations encounters.
The 35-year-old fly-half is set to make a landmark 100th Test appearance — he has 93 caps for Ireland and six for the British and Irish Lions.
Ireland’s 35-27 defeat in Paris last month cost them a chance to win the Six Nations title.
However, they finished third in the table whereas Wales, in their first Six Nations campaign under Wayne Pivac, went from 2019 Grand Slam winners to second from bottom, winning just one of their five matches.
The Welsh took action on Sunday, announcing that defence coach Byron Hayward would be leaving immediately, just a year after replacing the highly successful Shaun Edwards.
“We can never make up for last Saturday (October 31) but we can try and win this competition and next year’s Six Nations,” Sexton said on Monday.
“This year’s is one that got away.
“This week we are playing against a team who are a lot better than the last results have suggested. It will be two teams hurting a lot and it will be a really tough game on Friday.”
Sexton said Ireland would not underestimate the quality in the Welsh ranks.
“You can have a lean run of results but know you are not that far away, it is only a case of being unable to get it together at key moments,” he said.
Sexton, who was appointed skipper by head coach Andy Farrell after last year’s World Cup — joked “where do you start?” when asked which areas he thought Ireland could improve upon.
Fullback Jacob Stockdale was criticised following the French reverse for being out of position on several occasions and some handling errors.
Sexton, said he had spoken with the 24-year-old Ulster back, who has moved from the wing to try and batten down the first-choice spot at fullback left vacant by Rob Kearney’s retirement from Test rugby.
“It was tough for a lot of guys who went into a big game and did not perform,” said Sexton.
“He (Stockdale) is a great guy, he knows he made some mistakes on the day but those things happen and we need him to be himself.
“We have seen what he can do at fullback against Italy (50-17 Six Nations win last month) and playing for Ulster so I think he will retain his confidence and look forward to seeing him at his best against Wales.”
Sexton said he wanted Ireland to find consistency and take their chances.
“We are a new team with new coaches and focusing on this campaign,” he said. “We had some average performances in the Six Nations like the first-half against England at Twickenham.
“But under Joe Schmidt (Farrell’s predecessor) it took us a while to get consistency but we know we can get there as we achieved the Grand Slam in 2018.
“This past Six Nations is a start, not a drag over from the previous campaign.”