Johnny Sexton hailed Conor Murray’s character, as his team-mate showed remarkable fortitude to play 57 minutes of Ireland’s enthralling 32-19 win over France after enduring one of the most difficult weeks of his life.
our days after his dad Gerry suffered serious injuries following a bicycle accident involving a truck in Limerick, Murray played a key role in what was a statement victory against the now-dethroned Grand Slam champions.
Sexton and Murray go a long way back and have been together through the good days and bad, and the Ireland captain praised how his long-standing half-back partner handled such a difficult situation.
“It’s unbelievable really, isn’t it?” Sexton said.
“It’s a mark of the character and the player. In my eyes, has always been a class operator. He’s always been world-class in his position. He changed the game, in many ways, for scrum-halves.
“It’s amazing really, that he could show up today and be so calm, and put in the performance that he did.”
Although there is plenty of road left to travel, talk will now turn to Ireland winning a potential Grand Slam, with Sexton not shying away from the fact that this is his side’s ultimate goal.
“It’s been clear from the start, what we want to achieve,” he maintained.
“It goes unsaid but everyone knows what we want to do. We won a Triple Crown last year, but we want to go better this year.
“That’s what we speak about, to keep going on a trajectory like this as opposed to 2019 when we dipped. So, to get better is to win a Championship or a Grand Slam.
“How you do that is by concentrating on the next two weeks and try to beat Italy away. We obviously saw the game last week, you know how tough it’s going to be.”
For the second week running, Ireland secured a bonus point by outscoring the opposition by four tries to one, but Sexton was quick to point out that such was the constant threat that France posed, the home side never felt comfortable.
The quality of rugby in the first half was as good as it gets, with Sexton relishing being part of an unforgettable occasion.
“It was an incredible game, wasn’t it?” Sexton smiled.
“It felt like we were on the up after getting that (Hugo Keenan) try and then suddenly they open up. They can come alive, can’t they? That’s what we spoke about.
“Even though we won and got five points in the end, it still didn’t feel very comfortable. At the end, (Antoine) Dupont getting away, he’s a remarkable player. You have to be alive to hold on to him, but look, we concentrated on last week for the two weeks in Portugal.
“Then we concentrated on this week and we knew we had to be across it in terms of the Championship and now we have got to decompress, take a few days off and come back.
“It’s not worth anything if we let it slip now against Italy in the next game. We have two weeks to prepare for that now and we need to be on top of our game going over there.”
Sexton was forced off with an injury after 48 minutes in front of a sold-out Aviva Stadium, but with two weeks to go until Ireland travel to Rome, the talismanic out-half will hope to be available.
“(Uni) Atonio tackled me and landed on my groin,” Sexton said before Andy Farrell interjected and said of the monstrous 145kg French prop: “That will do it!”
“Yeah, it was another impact (injury) and I couldn’t run it off. I was gutted to come off. I was enjoying it. It felt good.
“The first game back is always difficult and then your second one, you always feel much better for it. But that’s life. I just have to look after it now and make sure I get myself right again.”