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Read will lead the All Blacks out for the first time in a Rugby World Cup playoff match tomorrow.
Johnny Sexton sounded a rallying cry last night as Ireland prepared to face off against New Zealand in the biggest match in the country’s history, demanding that his team-mates walk off the pitch at the end of Saturday night’s World Cup quarterfinal being able to look themselves in the eye and know that they had played their best.
Sexton, who practised alone at the Tokyo Stadium yesterday, with the rest of the Ireland team eschewing the three-hour round trip from their Tokyo Disneyland hotel, struck a calm but determined note.
The sense of desperation back home has grown with each quadrennial failure; each near-miss. Six times Ireland have made the quarterfinals of the World Cup and six times they have come up short.
Expectations this time are only slightly tempered by the fact that they are facing tournament favourites and back-to-back world champions New Zealand.
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Ireland have only themselves to blame for that, having lost to Japan in the pool stages. But the facts are what they are. All week Ireland have been candid about the reality that they could play their best today and still end up losing.
Sexton repeated that again yesterday. But Ireland’s talisman, who was clear that this team were “right up there” with the best he had ever played with, said it was vital they held up their side of the bargain and produced a performance of which they could all be proud.
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