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Johnny Sexton sounded a rallying cry as Ireland prepared to face off against New Zealand in the biggest match in the country’s history, demanding that his teammates walk off the pitch at the end of Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final clash being able to look themselves in the eye and know that they had played their best.
Sexton, who practised alone at the Ajinomoto Stadium on Friday, with the rest of the Ireland team opting against the three-hour round trip from their hotel in Tokyo Disneyland, 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 quarter-finals of the Rugby 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 fact that they could play their best and still end up losing.
Sexton repeated that again on Friday. But Ireland’s talisman, who was clear that this Ireland team was “right up there” with the best he had ever played
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