'What won't happen is throwing anyone under the bus' – Johnny Sexton on review into Ireland's World Cup failure

Almost three weeks on from Ireland’s dismal World Cup exit and we are none the wiser about why things went so badly wrong.

The pain was still etched across Johnny Sexton’s face as he took his place on stage at the Principality Stadium and was quizzed about Leinster’s upcoming Champions Cup campaign. He looked as if he would have been happy for the ground to swallow him up.

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Sexton knew what was coming. After the formalities were conducted, he was pressed to offer his take on Ireland’s abject failure.

It took a few minutes, but he eventually warmed to the task.

Having claimed he was unaware of the criticism from former team-mates Brian O’Driscoll and Isa Nacewa over Ireland’s inability to adapt, Sexton was quickly brought up to speed.

The out-half brushed off the suggestion that Stuart Lancaster’s positive impact at Leinster ended up clouding the thinking in the Ireland set-up, but he did agree with the assessment that Joe Schmidt’s side failed to evolve their game-plan after enjoying a stunning season in 2018.

“We didn’t improve enough,” Sexton conceded. “We didn’t evolve as much but that is all in hindsight. We obviously tried to and we didn’t. It’s tough to take.

“We haven’t done a review process yet and we will. We will sit down and we will be as honest with each other about things, so we can learn going forward.

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“But every World Cup is different. I know everyone wants to say, ‘Oh, it’s a quarter-final again, you didn’t do this and that’.

“But each quarter-final has been different. What hurts the most is that we didn’t play as well as the best we could, so we will never know.

“We knew coming into this World Cup that it was going to come down to the quarter-final and it was going to be South Africa or New Zealand.

“So it was blatantly going to be unbelievably tough. There was a good likelihood that we were going to lose in a quarter-final. It was going to be a 50-50 game at best against a top-quality team.

Coming to terms with a quarter-final exit is nothing new for Sexton, but this one feels very different.

After four years of building towards that All Blacks game, Ireland were unable to fire a shot, which has understandably left a sour taste across the board.

“It’ll be raw for four years,” he admitted.

“It’ll be raw for lads that go to the next World Cup for the next four years. For the lads that don’t, for the rest of their careers, for the rest of their lives really. It meant that much to us but, like I said, we have to go and look at everything we did.”

Sexton stood by his assertion that training in the week of the New Zealand defeat went well, even when it was put to him that Joe Schmidt suggested it was “flat”.

As bad as this year was for Ireland, Sexton admits they had realised things weren’t going to plan and attempted to rectify matters before it was too late.

“There were times throughout the year where the coaches challenged us to improve and we challenged the systems or whatever you want to call it. On both sides, we didn’t (ignore issues). That was through it and after it. You can have opinions on why but it (2019) is a failure.

“We didn’t do what we wanted in the Six Nations. We didn’t do what we wanted in the World Cup so there is no other way to look at it.”

The IRFU’s review into that failure has already begun and Sexton insists the players and coaches will be brutally honest with each other as they seek to identify the reasons behind such a complete systems failure.

“That’s happening at the moment. It will happen behind closed doors with the IRFU and they will employ a company to come in and ask us questions.

“No one will be as honest as we will be with each other. But it’s important that we stick together. We were in it together and that is the most important thing. What won’t happen is throwing anyone under the bus.

“People can point the finger at us. It’s not going to change how I feel about myself. I know myself what I did, what I could have done better, what I could have done more of. Those answers are for me to know.”

Sexton already has his sights set on returning for the start of Leinster’s Champions Cup campaign against Benetton on November 16, and the 34-year-old is not ruling out playing at the next World Cup in 2023.

“I am contracted for this season and for next season,” he added.

“My body feels great. I am obsessed with trying to play for as long as I can. I spoke to a lot of guys who have done that, guys I have been surrounded by.

“I am still hungry. I want to finish at the top. Whether that happens or not over the next few years, we’ll see.

“There have been plenty of 37-year-olds (he will be 38 in 2023) going to Rugby World Cups and I would love to add my name to that list. But, there are lots of things that have to happen.”

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