Johnny Sexton’s last-gasp drop goal helped sealed Grand Slam glory for Ireland in Paris two years ago, but the Leinster fly-half insists lifting the Guinness Six Nations trophy as captain on his return to the scene would be the pinnacle of his glittering career.
The 35-year-old clinched a famous victory for the Emerald Isle in Round 1 of the 2018 Championship with a crucial kick after 41 phases in the 83rd minute, setting them on their way towards just their third ever Grand Slam.
While 24-12 defeat away to England in Round 3 of the current campaign has denied them the opportunity to repeat that feat this year, Ireland head into their last fixture as favourites for a second title in three years.
An emphatic, bonus-point 50-17 victory over Italy last weekend – in which Sexton notched a second-half score – got the disrupted series back up-and-running in style, and Andy Farrell’s men now head to France with a one-point lead over England and Les Bleus in the standings, knowing another five points will see them over the line.
And despite claiming multiple honours throughout his playing days – including three previous Six Nations titles and multiple Guinness PRO14 winners’ medals, as well as individual gongs such as the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year award – Sexton believes winning the Championship as captain would top the lot.
“I hadn’t really thought about it because we’re all very process-focused and driven at the moment, it’s all about that,” said Sexton, who succeeded Rory Best as skipper ahead of the 2020 series.
“But now that you say it, it would be the pinnacle of my career to be captain of a team to win a trophy – especially for Ireland – and I’m very proud to do it. To win something would be the pinnacle really.”
While Sexton is set to win his 93rd Test cap for the men in green in the last of the Super Saturday clashes, he believes victory would also prove a fitting way to celebrate the achievements of province teammate Cian Healy, who is in line to become Ireland’s sixth Test centurion.
He is under no illusion however that France pose a potent threat to their Championship plans, with Fabien Galthié’s charges themselves having tasted just one defeat so far that leaves them in the running for the title if they beat Ireland and better England’s result against Italy.
Sexton added: “It’s an incredible feat for Cian. You look at the guys that have 100 caps, you don’t get there easily.
“Every player in that category is a legend of the game in Ireland, and he’ll add himself to that legacy. And he deserves it.
“It’s in our own hands in many ways. No matter what happens in the games before, we’ll still be going onto the pitch being able to win the trophy, which is what you play for.
“We’re going to have to play well no matter what, and all we can control at the moment is our performance. So, we’ve just had to emphasise to everyone that we need to get the performance right no matter what.
“You train hard for these big days and we’re looking forward to it. We know if we perform well, we’ll create chances so we’ll have to take them, we’ll need to be clinical.”