Berliner TageBlatt - Irish star Sexton thriving on Carbery challenge for first choice spot

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Irish star Sexton thriving on Carbery challenge for first choice spot
Irish star Sexton thriving on Carbery challenge for first choice spot / Foto: © AFP

Irish star Sexton thriving on Carbery challenge for first choice spot

Ireland's talismanic fly-half Johnny Sexton says he welcomes the challenge to his number one spot from Joey Carbery adding he is "well used to competition".


The 36-year-old Irish skipper said Wednesday he is fit for the home Six Nations game with winless Italy on Sunday, after missing the 30-24 defeat by France.

Carbery received widespread praise for his performance in Paris -- only his first Six Nations start in his 29th Test since making his debut in 2016 -- and while he says it is good to learn from Sexton he is also keen to hold on to the starting spot.

Carbery might have hoped of supplanting Sexton after the 2019 World Cup but suffered an ankle injury that affected him for almost two years. He is well used to being Sexton's understudy although he left Leinster, where they both played, in 2018 as he was assured of first team rugby at rivals Munster.

Some are keen for Carbery to start again against Italy because, with Sexton due to be 38 by the time the 2023 World Cup kicks off in France, the Test side needs another tried and tested fly-half.

"Look, I am well used to competition, I have had it the whole of my career," said Sexton at his press conference from the Irish training camp.

"I had it early doors with Ronan O'Gara and Felipe Contepomi at Ireland and Leinster respectively.

"When you get the jersey there is always someone else who wants it.

"In the past when I got it there was Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson, now there is Joey Carbery.

"Mind you Joey has been around a long time now, he is 26, so there is nothing new, nothing has changed vis a vis challenges.

"I have got great competition at Leinster at the moment (the two Byrne brothers Ross and Harry) so you have to just focus on yourself and ensure you are fit and ready to fire on all cylinders when you get the chance to play."

- 'Deserves my respect' -

Sexton, the 2018 World Player of the Year, said that it had been frustrating to miss the French game and "put some demons to bed" harking back to a loss there in 2020.

"We (Carbery and him) have been swapping in and out all the time in training," said Sexton.

"I thought he did well as it is tougher when you are called in late (Sexton was ruled out on the Wednesday before the Saturday clash with the French) but he is very professional.

"He was composed on the day and did well which is good for him with the tough time he has had with injury.

"Since last summer, he has started a few games like against Argentina last November and then the France match so he is getting those games in the Test arena under his belt and he will be all the better for it."

Whoever starts on Sunday in Dublin, the 102-times capped Sexton believes Italy are showing signs of improvement under New Zealander coach Kieran Crowley, appointed in the summer of 2021.

While the Irish still have title aspirations -- prior to losing to France they opened with a 29-7 whipping of defending champions Wales -- Italy have slumped to 37-10 and 33-0 defeats by France and England respectively.

"Any side that Kieran Crowley coaches deserves my respect," said Sexton, who has faced Italy 10 times.

"Seeing the way they have played so far they are showing huge improvements.

"They are in transition, which happens every time when a new coach comes in but they have talented individuals."