Sexton hails Wales squad depth ahead of Championship opener

Jonathan Sexton 29/1/2022
Johnny Sexton insists Wales will provide a major challenge to Ireland in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations opener, despite their injury concerns.

Johnny Sexton insists Wales will provide a major challenge to Ireland in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations opener, despite their injury concerns.

The defending champions will be without captain Alun Wyn Jones and other veterans such as Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric for Saturday’s trip to Dublin.

However, Sexton refuses to believe Wayne Pivac’s side will be significantly weakened, pointing to the number of Test-quality options they have and ability to always rise to the occasion.

And the 36-year-old, who is preparing for his 13th Championship, says he’s focused on who they have got – not who they haven’t.

“I’m not going to say that we’re complacent because then I’m insulting the guys coming in and I think the guys that are coming in are excellent players,” he said.

“The guys that are injured of course have big reputations because they’ve played multiple Tests for their country and they’ve performed week in, week out but these other guys that are coming in at the start of their journey can go on and have the same careers as the guys ahead of them.

“There’s not one ounce of complacency in our squad. We haven’t spoken too much about who they’re missing; we’ve spoken about who they’ve got.

“They played November with a lot of the same injuries and they picked up some good results with good performances.

“They had their injury issues in the Six Nations last year and they ended up winning it so we haven’t spoken about it too much.”

Between them, Ireland and Wales have won seven of the last 10 Championship titles and Sexton says the rivalry between them is intense but friendly.

The pair also met in Round 1 a year ago and a pair of second-half tries from George North and Louis Rees-Zammit secured victory for the hosts in Cardiff, sparking a run to the title.

Saturday will mark their 133rd Test meeting and, in recent times, the fixture has favoured the home team – with the last Championship away success coming nine years ago.

“With us and Wales there have been big battles over the years,” Sexton said.

“The rivalry – I think in my early days especially – there was a nastier side to it. Now when you talk about rivalries in sport: Leinster-Munster, all the provinces, we have that rivalry because you don’t like losing to the guys closest to you.

“There’s probably a little bit of an element of that with the Welsh boys that they get on so well with the Irish boys on Lions tours and after games.

“When you’ve got relationships like that you don’t want to lose to the people you’re closest with.

“Not all rivalries are like that. Some of them you’re just not close to the other people and you want to beat them.”

In contrast to Wales, Ireland have few injury concerns. Keith Earls (strain), Josh van der Flier (strain) and Joey Carbery (elbow) have all trained fully since flying to Portugal for a preparation camp.

Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan and Iain Henderson all trained on Tuesday and are expected to be available this weekend.