Experienced Sexton 'never been as nervous' as he was before convincing Six Nations win over Wales

Experienced Sexton 'never been as nervous' as he was before convincing Six Nations win over Wales

IRELAND captain Johnny Sexton said he had never been as nervous before a game as he was ahead of his side's Six Nations clash against Wales on Saturday.

The fly-half contributed 12 points as Ireland began their campaign with a 34-10 bonus-point victory at the Principality Stadium.

Caelan Doris, James Ryan, James Lowe and Josh van der Flier scored the tries as Ireland made light of the loss of Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy shortly before kick-off.

James Lowe scores Ireland’s third try (Image Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Sexton, 37, was playing his first game since suffering a cheekbone injury in Leinster's United Rugby Championship clash with Connacht on New Year's Day.

That game was his first start since returning from a calf injury that kept him out of Ireland's 13-10 Autumn Nations Series victory over Australia in November.

If there was any trepidation on Sexton's part, he disguised it well with another vintage performance to help spoil Warren Gatland's return as Wales boss.

'I've trained hard'

However, speaking after the game, he revealed just how anxious he was before captaining his side to victory.

"I don't think I've ever been as nervous before a game, for lots of reasons," said Sexton.

"The main one was because I'd forgotten what it was like to build up to a game.

"I'd one game on New Year's Day since the South Africa test and obviously I got injured.

Sexton scored 12 points against Wales (Image: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

"But I've trained hard. I've made mistakes in training but when you want to train well and you make those mistakes, hopefully you get a few less on the Saturday.

"We came a bit unstuck in the third quarter, so we need to just go and have a look at that and see what we could have done better.

"[But we're] happy to get through and look forward to next weekend."

Discipline slips

Ireland led 27-3 at the break but ill-discipline following the restart threatened to allow Wales back into the game.

Having conceded just two penalties in the first half, four in the opening 10 minutes of the second handed the momentum to Wales, with Dan Biggar converting after Liam Williams’ try on 45 minutes to make it 27-10.

Despite accumulating 13 penalties in total, Ireland still prevented Wales from building on their positive restart, with van der Flier’s try and Ross Byrne’s conversion the only other scores of the half.

Andy Farrell praised his players for recovering from a poor start to the second half (Image: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Coach Andy Farrell conceded they allowed their discipline to slip after the break but praised his players for overcoming that rough patch.

"The first 20 minutes of the second half wasn't great," he admitted.

"A lot of it was on downfall regarding how we played, our discipline etc.

"But how we came out of that showed some good resilience and we kept playing right to the end and that we could have had one or two more was pretty pleasing."

France head for Dublin

Saturday's win keeps alive Ireland's hopes of a first Grand Slam since 2018.

Next up are 2022 Grand Slam champions France, who avoided a shock defeat in Italy on Sunday with a late Matthieu Jalibert try sealing a 29-24 win.

Sexton says Ireland will be 'up against it' but hopes the fans can help sway the game in their favour.

"[The win over Wales] is only a start but at the same time if you come away from a bad result today then the Triple Crown's gone, the Grand Slam's gone," he said.

"Obviously you're still going for a Championship but we're still in the hunt [for a Grand Slam] so it's brilliant.

Ireland fans in Cardiff Image: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images))

"It's all down to next week. That's the beauty of this competition, there's no easy games.

"All five of our games this year are really tough and none tougher than next week, the team that hasn't been beaten for a year.

"We're up against it but when we went over to the Stade to France last year the crowd was probably the best atmosphere I've seen and I’m sure our Irish fans will put on something similar to that."

Ireland v France kicks off at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, February 11 at 2.15pm GMT.

The game is available on RTÉ 2 in Ireland and ITV in England, while US viewers can catch the action on the Peacock subscription streaming service.