Sexton leads Ireland to perfect start

Grand Slam champions Wales' Josh Adams scoring their fifth try to complete his hat-trick in their 42-0 trouncing of Italy at Cardiff's Principality Stadium on Saturday. It was a feat not seen since Maurice Richards' four tries against England in 1969.
Grand Slam champions Wales' Josh Adams scoring their fifth try to complete his hat-trick in their 42-0 trouncing of Italy at Cardiff's Principality Stadium on Saturday. It was a feat not seen since Maurice Richards' four tries against England in 1969. PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBLIN • Wales will have taken note that Ireland's talismanic Johnny Sexton answered all the question marks hanging over him on Saturday night.

His performance and leadership as captain were labelled "magnificent" by coach Andy Farrell. Aside from the 19 points he scored as the Irish ran out 19-12 winners over Scotland at Lansdowne Road, he showed no signs of the tantrums that for some made him a risky choice as skipper.

The 2018 World Player of the Year, who was given the armband last month, did not stay in his zone and appeared to relish the extra responsibility.

He went up to whichever player had forced a turnover deep in their own territory and slapped them on their backs, as the hosts got their Six Nations campaign off to the perfect start.

The Welsh will provide a sterner trial than the Scots and may test his temperament more on Saturday.

But the first signs were encouraging, with the Irish looking to bounce back after an underwhelming Rugby World Cup in Japan, where they were beaten by New Zealand in the quarter-finals last October.

On getting a victory in his first game in charge, Farrell said: "I wouldn't say relief; we're delighted to get the win. I thought it was a tough old Test match.

"There's some good, there's obviously plenty to work on and we'll need to be better. It was a decent start.

"Our performance was summed up in the last five minutes, we asked the lads to stand for something this week and you could easily see the true Irish grit.

"There were guys out there not used to playing for so long, but due to injuries, were still tracking back in the final five minutes."

They will, however, need to sharpen up ahead of the visiting Wales this weekend. Like Ireland, they also have a new coach in charge after Wayne Pivac took over from Warren Gatland, who left after leading the team to fourth place at the World Cup.

Pivac could not have wished for more accommodating opponents than Italy for his first Test match in charge and, after a 42-0 hammering to inflict their 23rd Six Nations loss, the Welsh showed they are capable of retaining their title.

Josh Adams scored a hat-trick of tries - a feat not achieved since Maurice Richards crossed four times against England in 1969 - and the wing is carrying over his form from Japan, where he was the leading try-scorer with seven. "It was a big win at home to start off," he said. "But don't get me wrong, we are not the finished article."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2020, with the headline 'Sexton leads Ireland to perfect start'. Print Edition | Subscribe