FUKUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – Johnny Sexton is adamant his side can break Ireland’s quarter-final curse and beat the All Blacks at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday, if they get their game plan and execution exactly right.
Joe Schmidt’s team entered the World Cup as the top-ranked side in the world but after an opening thrashing of a poor Scotland, have failed to convince their fans they could be the first Irish side to make the last four at the tournament.
Sexton said the side were aware of social and traditional media criticism of the performances, but the team were exactly where they needed to be if they were going to push past their quarter-final choke point.
“We know things weren’t great,” Sexton told reporters on Monday.
“But look we are where we are, we’re exactly where we want to be in terms of a quarter-final and now we’re going to do everything we can for this week to put our best selves out there and hopefully that can get us the right result.”
Ireland finished runners-up in Pool A after Japan shocked them with a 19-12 victory at Shizuoka Stadium before the tournament hosts finished the pool phase unbeaten and set up a quarter-final with South Africa.
That meant Joe Schmidt’s side ended up facing the All Blacks in Tokyo on Saturday and while they have failed to ignite during the tournament so far, they do have the game to beat New Zealand, having beaten them twice in their last four encounters.
At their best, Ireland simply suffocate their opposition, controlling the ball for long periods and battling ahead centimetre by centimetre through their combative forwards.
They also put pressure on their opposition back three with Conor Murray’s tactical kicking game, while Sexton’s game management is world class as he accumulates points and drives his side forward.
More importantly it is a style of game that the All Blacks only see rarely — the Springboks are adept at it as well — and find difficult to combat.
“It’s going to be an incredibly tough game but one we’re looking forward to,” Sexton said.
“When you do get a chance you have to take it. That sounds easy but it’s a lot harder to do against such a quality team.
“Your defence has to be the best it can be – we’ll need to be at our best in that regard and with our discipline too.
“We’ll need to be pretty close to as good as we can be in all aspects to be able to get the result.
“We’re building nicely, we haven’t hit our best performance yet and we need to get close to that to get the right result on Saturday.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Christian Radnedge)