The Ireland fly-half finished his career by exiting at the quarter-final stage yet again
A visibly emotional Johnny Sexton was full of pride despite having his career ended ahead of schedule by a devastating quarter-final defeat to New Zealand.
This tournament was always going to be the 38-year-old’s last dance but his last act came two weeks earlier than planned in Paris. Andy Farrell’s world No 1 side suffered the exact same fate as their predecessors in Japan four years ago; losing a quarter-final to the All Blacks.
The Irish quarter-final hoodoo continues for another four years and Andy Farrell admitted it is the end for this great Ireland side with captain Sexton retiring.
Sexton said: “The last six weeks have been incredible, the support, the way we’ve played. It’s been a dream come true and that includes today.
“The last couple of years, in a green jersey anyway, have been the most enjoyable of my career. Everyone runs into camp, never wants to leave. It’s an incredible place to be and that’s what I’ll miss. But grateful as well, sitting here at 38, I’ve had a few ups and downs.”
“I’ll probably reflect on it a bit more in the next couple of weeks, spend time with my family.”
Although Ireland never led against the All Blacks, they fought back from 13-0 down after the first 20 minutes and with the clock in the red, pounded away at the New Zealand defence for 37 phases in an attempt to find the try that would unlock their semi-final dreams.
But it wasn’t to be and Sexton was left to lament how hard his side had to work for their points compared to the opposition, Will Jordan’s long-range try stemming from first phase one example of how New Zealand pulled the trigger with ease at points.
Sexton added: “They didn’t have to work hard for their tries. We were sucker-punched a couple of times, but they are a quality team.We had to work harder for our tries and the way we fought back was a tribute to our character.”
The Irish support has been phenomenal in France with swathes of green-shirted supporters taking over the capital on multiple occasions after the last month. And although the result didn’t go their way, Sexton was effusive in his praise of the green army.
“How can you be prouder to be Irish when you see what’s happened over the last six weeks really. We get behind the team like no other, it’s incredible and it’s not wasted on us.