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Johnny Sexton eyes ‘huge challenge’ for South Africa after record performance

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will continue to let his performances do the talking after warming up for world champions South Africa with another record-breaking performance.

The 38-year-old surpassed his old rival Ronan O’Gara as his country’s all-time leading scorer by reaching 1,090 career points in the emphatic 59-16 victory over Tonga on Saturday.

Last week, Sexton returned strongly after almost six months on the sidelines to overtake O’Gara as Ireland’s top scorer at the Rugby World Cup, as well as becoming the oldest international to wear the green jersey.

His biggest challenge after his long-awaited return from injury and suspension is undoubtedly yet to come, with Paris’ mouth-watering showdown against the Springboks likely to decide who tops Pool B.

“The proof of my good form will be next Saturday,” said Sexton, who will retire after the tournament. “You have to go out there and do it in games.

“There’s no point saying you feel good or anything. I take it day by day, make sure I recover well, show up to training Monday and Tuesday and try to put the plan in place to face the reigning world champions.

“They’ve reached a great level of fitness and it’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but we’re really excited and we feel like we’re ready to take it on.”

Sexton won the fourth of eight Irish tries on a historic night in Nantes.

He also scored four conversions and a penalty to add to the 24 points he had in the curtain-raiser against Romania before being withdrawn at half-time.

Bundee Aki’s second-half double, between goals from James Lowe and Rob Herring, helped seal Ireland’s 15th consecutive victory after Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris and Mack Hansen laid the foundations.

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Although Scotland will still hope to have a say, Ireland and South Africa top the group, with the eventual winners likely to avoid hosts France and face New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

“We obviously want to win the group,” Sexton said. “We want to win every game. It’s pretty clear.

“If you get past the group, it doesn’t matter if you finish first or second, you won’t have an easy match.

“But we will be aiming for victory next week and hopefully the game after (against Scotland) as well.”

Andy Farrell’s decision to name a strong starting XV at the Stade de la Beaujoire was vindicated by a second consecutive bonus-point triumph from which his side emerged relatively unscathed.

The head coach, who was optimistic about the assessment of replacement prop Finlay Bealham’s head injury, hopes his players can step up a gear in the capital in six days’ time.

“I hope we will be better because we will definitely need it to face a fantastic team in South Africa,” he said.

“But two games on the clock is good for us. Hopefully this will take it to another level in week three.

“That’s what World Cups are for, weeks coming up against the reigning world champions.

“It doesn’t get any better and one thing’s for sure, you know the Irish (fans) are going to come out and enjoy it too. It’s a fantastic week to look forward to.


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