Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is adamant that he has no intention of walking away from the international stage any time soon.
The 35-year-old recently suffered a hamstring injury against Wales in the opening match of the Autumn Nations Cup and the fly-half believes that commenters in some quarters were trying to retire him as he left the field with less than half an hour played at the Aviva Stadium.
Taking over the captain’s armband from Rory Best last year, Sexton led Ireland to a third-place finish in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, after a final day 35-27 defeat to France saw them miss out on the title.
And despite nearly a decade as first choice Ireland fly-half for his country, he claims the desire to represent Ireland burns just as fiercely as ever, especially with the 2021 Guinness Six Nations just around the corner.
“I’m still hungry, I still love the game, I still love competing, I still love training and being part of this team. I don’t see any reason to stop,” the Ireland skipper said.
“I want to be the best out-half in Ireland and I still have aspirations for other things as well.
“I am not going to retire just because you guys (the media) want me to. I’ll keep going while I feel good and I feel hungry. I know some past players want to retire me as well – but I will crack on.”
Sexton will return to the starting XV this weekend as Ireland face Scotland in the Autumn Nations Cup 3rd/4th place play-off at the Aviva Stadium, in what will be his 95th appearance for his country.
That leaves the Leinster man just five caps short of an international century for Ireland, which could be achieved in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Round 5 match against England at the Aviva Stadium on March 20 if he retains his place in the side.
Ross Byrne and Billy Burns have deputised at fly-half in Sexton’s absence during the latest two rounds of the Autumn Nations Cup, with both putting in impressive performances that suggest they could fill the boots at No.10 in the future.
But that moment doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon if the current captain is to be believed, with a determination to fight for his place in Andy Farrell’s starting XV as strong as ever, despite his latest setback.
“Professional rugby, injury is just part of it. I feel good when I’m out there on the pitch,” said Sexton. “You’re only a big injury from being finished totally, no matter what age you are.
“And then it’s just about getting out there and trying to perform and prove that there’s more in me, and I feel there is. I feel I can get to another level and the day that that’s not (the case) is the day I will walk away.”