Johnny Sexton insists there is plenty left to come in his distinguished career as he seeks to cap a Guinness Six Nations swansong by guiding Ireland to Grand Slam glory in a “cup final” against England.
Captain Sexton will make his 60th and final appearance of the championship on Saturday when Steve Borthwick’s side arrive in Dublin bidding to ruin the St Patrick’s weekend party.
The 37-year-old retains aspirations of leading his country into the autumn World Cup in France after which he plans to retire, while a Champions Cup final with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in May also remains a possibility.
Sexton talked down the personal significance of the crunch weekend showdown and is hopeful there is a “lot more of the journey left”.
“This is the last Six Nations game but there’s so much ahead, please God, if I stay lucky and avoid injuries,” said the Leinster fly-half, who is poised for his 113rd Ireland outing.
“There’s hopefully a World Cup, there’s hopefully some knockout games with Leinster ahead in the Aviva so I’m trying to get away from the fact that it’s this big last thing.
“It’s just a cup final and that’s all we’re thinking about.
“You’re playing England at home with something on the line, so it’s always what you’ve wanted to do and where you wanted to be.
“It’s not the last game with this team, well I certainly hope not. We’ve got a lot more of the journey left so I’m not really thinking like that.”
Sexton made his full Six Nations debut in a 2010 victory away to England and has won the competition on three occasions, including the 2018 Grand Slam.
Ireland are bidding for a fourth clean sweep overall, albeit a first one secured in Dublin after the 1948, 2009 and 2018 triumphs were clinched in Belfast, Cardiff and London respectively.
“That’s the bit that we spoke about from the start: it’s never been done at home,” said Sexton, who moved level with former Ireland team-mate Ronan O’Gara as the Six Nations’ all-time leading point scorer by taking his tally to 557 in last weekend’s win in Scotland.
“It’s something that we identified very early and said, ‘imagine this happening, imagine having a shot at it at home in front of your family, friends’ and now it’s a big occasion.
“It’s about dealing with that, embracing it and getting a good performance out there that warrants putting us in a position to win the game.
“I have got a bit more emotional as I have gone on so will definitely be trying to hold that back but use it as well because it will hopefully be a special day.”
Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony said long-term international colleague Sexton has “changed rugby”.
“I can’t sit here and sum it up for you, it’s been too big a career, too important a career, too long a career to sit here and sum it up in a few words,” said O’Mahony.
“He’s changed rugby, changed Irish rugby, obviously for the better. He teaches people what it’s like to be a professional, what it’s like to be a proper Irishman.
“All these things add to the occasion. But these are things we have spoken about and everyone’s acknowledged and put to one side for 80 minutes.”