ALL TO PLAY FOR: Ireland must take their chance to shine in Autumn Rugby Series

ALL TO PLAY FOR: Ireland must take their chance to shine in Autumn Rugby Series

YOU often hear top football managers say that winning builds belief, which is why they still want to win the less important matches.  

This weekend, Ireland take on Japan, followed by New Zealand next week and Argentina on November 21 in a sequence of games billed as the Autumn Rugby Series.

These matches against their southern hemisphere rivals won’t be played for a trophy but come at a time when the Six Nations hovers in the distance and, after a so-so performance under head coach Andy Farrell so far, perhaps take on more significance than they normally would do.

In front of what will probably be the biggest home rugby crowds seen in the Aviva Stadium for 18 months or so, it will be a good chance for Ireland to show that they can win consistently and against strong opposition who are in form.

“Yeah I think it’s a big series of games,” said Johnny Sexton in an interview with The Irish Times.

“Since Andy’s come in we’ve had some great performances and we’ve had some average performances, so for us it’s about getting that consistency,” he added.

“The level of consistency where you don’t see us going up and down, you see a standard that we want to set with Japan being first up, and then continuing that for the two games subsequently. “Then we’ll see where we are leading into the Six Nations.”

The upcoming Six Nations in the new year could prove pivotal for Farrell, who wants to transform Ireland into serious contenders, but is still struggling to show he is up to the job.

Leinster's Johnny Sexton is in Farrell's squad

With away matches against England and France in the Six Nations, victories against the likes of Argentina this month could help fill the squad with confidence heading into those seismic clashes in February and March 2022.

For the likes of Sexton, this month is also another chance to avenge the defeats they suffered at the hands of Japan and New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup, perhaps setting the tone for the event's return in France in two years' time.

“It’s a huge game against Japan,” said Sexton.

“You saw against Australia how they made life difficult for them. They’ve been outstanding over many fixtures over the last couple of years, especially during that World Cup.

“They haven’t had many fixtures since the World Cup obviously, but they were a team to be reckoned with and we won’t be taking them lightly, of course.”

In the lead up to these internationals, Sexton’s fitness had been in question, but Farrell will be pleased he has the Dubliner in his squad.

Although his effect on the big matches has waned in recent years, Sexton is still performing well for Leinster in the new United Rugby Championship and the reality is that there are few obvious replacements, certainly ones who would do a better job than the 36-year-old.

The likes of Billy Burns, Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne have all been experimented with in the fly-half position but have failed to convince they are up to taking Sexton’s throne, who will more than likely keep his place in the starting 15.