Rugby: Grand Slam-winning Sexton dreams of ultimate high of World Cup glory

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DUBLIN – Johnny Sexton might have captained Ireland to the Six Nations Grand Slam in his hometown of Dublin on Saturday and become the tournament’s record points scorer, but there remains unfinished business at this year’s Rugby World Cup.

With his hair greying at the edges and the fact he will be 38 when the quadrennial showpiece gets underway in France in September, bowing out with a Grand Slam might seem a superb way to end his Test career.

However, though he said securing the Grand Slam with a 29-16 win over England at Lansdowne Road – in what was his 60th and final Six Nations appearance – was the high point of his career, he hopes “an even higher one” is to come.

Ireland have never got past the World Cup quarter-finals but are the world’s No. 1-ranked team and among the favourites. They have won 10 straight Tests and 22 of their last 24.

Sexton found the 46-14 hammering by New Zealand in 2019 “hard to get over”, but Andy Farrell’s men will take some stopping in France.

“I think this Grand Slam is a part of the journey and very special,” he said.

“Like the Series in New Zealand was incredibly special (the Irish won a Series there for the first time last year 2-1).

“We don’t have to have a poor Six Nations to go on and win a World Cup, when England won in 2003, they had a Grand Slam in the same year, so we need to keep our feet on the ground first of all and keep building.”

Sexton may not have been at his magisterial best against England – reflecting an error-strewn performance from his teammates for the first 50 minutes – but a moment in the second half proved pivotal.

Pressed inside their 22 by England, who were just 10-9 down, he fluffed a clearance.

He then held his hands up and apologised to his teammates but also waved his hands in the air to gee them and the crowd up.

Within minutes Sexton had righted the ship not only for himself, but also his team, with a sumptuous cross-field kick that eventually led to a try and eased the pressure.

This was the sort of leadership quality that Farrell had seen in him while the Englishman was assistant to his predecessor Joe Schmidt.

It prompted him to name him captain after he took over as coach following the 2019 World Cup.

Farrell made no bones about how...

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