England are casting an eye towards their white-ball future this week against Ireland, but first-time skipper Zak Crawley is thankful to have the vastly-experienced Joe Root by his side for the series opener at Headingley.

With England’s World Cup defence just around the corner – they depart for India next week and begin the tournament on October 5 – Root is the only member of the first-choice squad taking on the Irish.

He asked to be added to the squad for Wednesday’s first ODI at his home ground, targeting one more innings to find the form that eluded him in the recent matches against New Zealand.

And the outing should prove mutually beneficial, with Root bringing 162 caps and a decade of experience to a squad that is conspicuously callow. The remaining 12 players have just 38 one-day appearances between them at international level, with four uncapped newcomers and three more who have turned out exactly once.

Crawley himself is barely any further along, with his three ODIs coming two summers ago as a result of Covid withdrawals, and he is more than happy to have the old, familiar face of his first Test captain on hand.

“I love spending time with Rooty. To have him in the side as a batsman and former captain is going to be tremendously useful for me and the team,” he said.

“It’s great having him here. Especially so for me as captain, because I can lean on him for that kind of stuff. I played under him for a long time and stood next to him at slip when he was Test captain. It’s great to have him in the team and I will look to him. He’s a great cricket brain and experienced guy.

“No-one works harder than Joe, that’s why he’s the best. We all try to emulate him as much as we can. He’s a great person to learn from and a role model for us all. I hope he gets what he needs from it too.”

What Root really needs, after scoring 39 scratchy runs in four innings against the Black Caps, is a chance to feel bat on ball and relocate his timing before jetting off to India. Crawley, for one, expects nothing less.

“If anyone has forgotten how good he is, that’s their fault,” he said. “He’s just using it to find some rhythm – he’s a big rhythm player.”

Root is one of 11 in the World Cup squad who are over 30 and one of eight who won the trophy on home soil four years ago. It has been apparent for some time that a changing of the guard is likely to occur sooner rather than later, with Jason Roy’s last-minute removal in favour of Harry Brook a further reminder that the torch will soon be handed over.

For Crawley and those at his side, the next three games could well be the gateway to future opportunities.

“We’re trying to get this group to become the main team one day,” he said.

“We’re looking at the future and trying to emulate those guys above by doing the same things, playing the same positive way and trying to copy them as much as possible. I’ve just got to concentrate on getting runs this week. If I don’t get any runs then that makes it hard to do that.

“Hopefully I just perform well this week and what comes from there comes from there.”

Crawley admitted to feeling “shocked” when head coach Matthew Mott invited him to be captain, a rapid promotion for someone who was angling for nothing more ambitious than a place on the teamsheet.

But it reflects a growing feeling that he is one of the players who will lead English cricket forward in the years to come. When Root resigned from Test duty last year there was a lack of viable alternatives in the next generation, with successor Ben Stokes not only the best choice but the only one.

Ollie Pope has since been installed as his vice-captain in the red-ball format and Crawley has now joined his old childhood rival on the fast-track. He still remembers captaining his school Tonbridge against Pope’s Cranleigh side.

“It was a good game but they beat us. Popey got 100, obviously,” he recalled.

“So I’ve captained growing up and I’ve captained a few times for Kent, but that’s the extent of my experience. The good thing Baz McCullum has done, and Stokesy, is they’ve encouraged everyone to speak up.

“You feel very comfortable speaking up in the dressing room. More people have come out of the woodwork and led from the front, there’s leaders everywhere you look and that’s a good sign.

“I remember Shane Warne saying you should always think like a captain when you’re playing, I’ve done that since I was a kid.”

Zak Crawley admits he was “shocked” to be named England captain for the one-day series against Ireland, more than two years after his only previous appearances in the format.

With England’s World Cup squad preparing to head for India, the selectors have cast their net far and wide for their three Metro Bank ODIs, but Crawley was still an unexpected pick as leader.

Despite being an ever-present in the Test side in recent times – and an Ashes star this summer – he has played only three 50-over games. They all came in the 2021 season, when Covid withdrawals left England scrambling for late replacements.

Speaking at Headingley on the eve of his first outing in charge, the 25-year-old said: “Yeah, I was shocked. I was just hoping to get into the team and play more for England. But they told me I was captain and it’s a great opportunity for me.

“It was Motty (head coach Matthew Mott) who gave me the call to say I’d be in the squad and captaining. It was as simple as that. He was doing the rounds phoning everyone else so it was a pretty brief phone call but a pretty good call.”

While Crawley will be leading an inexperienced squad, including four uncapped players and seven more with six caps or fewer, the vastly experienced Joe Root will be on hand on Wednesday to help out.

Like the rest of the first-choice squad he was not due to feature but asked to play at his home ground in a bid to find some form after a lean series against New Zealand.

And for Crawley, having his first Test skipper there is a major boost.

“Obviously having Joe in the team makes it stronger, no matter what team you’re in. It’s great having him,” said Crawley.

“Especially so for me as captain because I can lean on him for that kind of stuff. It’s awesome and hopefully he gets what he wants from it.”

South Africa-born Ireland hooker Rob Herring insists there will be no split loyalties among his family and friends when his side face the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup in Paris.

Andy Farrell’s men are seeking to secure a quarter-final spot with victory over the defending champions on Saturday evening following bonus-point wins over Romania and Tonga.

Herring’s mother and two of his three sisters have travelled from Cape Town for the tournament, while a number of his friends will be at Stade de France for the standout fixture in Pool B.

The 33-year-old Ulster player has twice before lined up against his native country – Dublin victories in 2017 and last November – but will do so on the biggest stage for the first time.

And he is in no doubt about where his relatives’ allegiances lie.

“They’re all supporting Ireland,” Herring told the PA news agency.

“All of my friends that are coming over and my family, they’re all in Irish jerseys so there will be no divided support. They will be fully behind us.

“It will be great. I’ve played against them a few times now and it’s always a good battle.

“I just want to be a part of the squad, contribute any way I can. It will be a good atmosphere, we’ll have our Irish fans there in full force.

“Every week we think we need to step things up and it’s going to be like that going into the long run of the competition. We’ll keep getting better and it will be another big challenge for us.”

Herring, who qualified for Ireland through a grandfather from Belfast, missed out on selection for the World Cup in 2015 and 2019.

 

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He is already making up for lost time, having claimed tries in the 82-8 opening-weekend win over Romania and Saturday’s 59-16 success over Tonga.

“I keep saying to myself, I’ve got to enjoy these moments,” he said.

“I’ve missed out before and I’ve worked so hard to be here over the last four years so I’m going to put in big performances when I get the opportunity and other than that I’m ready to take it all in and enjoy it.

“This group of boys, we love playing for each other so it’s a great team to be a part of and hopefully we’re going to go into the deep end of the comp.”

Herring’s rival hooker Dan Sheehan could return to contention for the South Africa showdown.

The 25-year-old has been sidelined since sustaining a foot injury in last month’s warm-up win over England but Ireland’s coaching staff are confident he will be available.

Back-rower Jack Conan (foot) and prop Finlay Bealham, who was forced off by a head knock against Tonga, will also be assessed ahead of the visit to the French capital.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will continue to let his performances do the talking after warming up for world champions South Africa with another record-breaking display.

The 38-year-old surpassed former fly-half rival Ronan O’Gara as his country’s all-time leading scorer by moving on to 1,090 career points during Saturday’s emphatic 59-16 win over Tonga.

Sexton last week returned with a bang from almost six months on the sidelines to leapfrog O’Gara as Ireland’s top points scorer at the Rugby World Cup, in addition to becoming the oldest international to wear the green jersey.

His greatest challenge following his long-awaited comeback from injury and suspension undoubtedly lies ahead, with the tantalising Paris showdown against the Springboks likely to decide who tops Pool B.

“The proof of whether I’m in good form will be next Saturday,” said Sexton, who will retire after the tournament. “You’ve got to go and do it in the games.

“There’s no point in saying you’re feeling good or whatever. I just take it day by day, make sure I recover well, turn up to training on Monday and Tuesday and try and put the plan in place to take on the reigning world champions.

“They’ve hit a great vein of form and it’s going to be a huge challenge for us but one that we are really excited about and we feel we’re ready for it.”

Sexton claimed the fourth of Ireland’s eight tries on a history-making evening in Nantes.

He also kicked four conversions and a penalty to add to the 24-point haul he managed in the curtain-raiser against Romania before being withdrawn at half-time.

Bundee Aki’s second-half double, in between scores from James Lowe and Rob Herring, helped seal Ireland’s 15th successive win after Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris and Mack Hansen laid the foundations.

While Scotland will still hope to have a say, Ireland and South Africa lead the way in the group, with the eventual table-toppers likely to avoid hosts France and play New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

“Obviously we want to win the group,” said Sexton. “We want to win every game. That’s pretty clear.

“If you get through the group, it doesn’t matter if you finish first or second, you won’t have an easy game.

“But we’ll be going for the win next week and hopefully the game after (against Scotland) as well.”

Andy Farrell’s decision to name a strong starting XV at Stade de la Beaujoire was vindicated by a second successive bonus-point triumph from which his team emerged relatively unscathed.

The head coach, who was upbeat about replacement prop Finlay Bealham’s head injury assessment, hopes his players can move up gear in the capital in six days’ time.

“I would hope we will be better because we’ll certainly need to be when it gets to playing against a fantastic side in South Africa,” he said.

“But two games under the belt is good for us. Hopefully that rolls on to to another level on the third week.

“This is what World Cups are all about, weeks that are coming against the reigning world champions.

“It doesn’t get any better and one thing’s for sure, you know that the Irish (fans) are going to turn up and enjoy it as well. It’s a fantastic week to look forward to.”

Johnny Sexton joked his young son will chase down his record after he became Ireland’s all-time leading points scorer in a crushing Rugby World Cup win over Tonga.

Captain Sexton stylishly surpassed former fly-half rival Ronan O’Gara with the fourth of his side’s eight tries in a thumping 59-16 Pool B success in Nantes.

The 38-year-old also kicked a penalty and four conversions en route to moving on to a career total of 1,090 Test points in the green jersey – seven clear of O’Gara’s tally of 1,083 and in 13 fewer appearances.

He gleefully celebrated his landmark score under the posts before suggesting nine-year-old Luca will one day look to eclipse the achievement.

“It’s something when you retire and finish, you can look back and be proud,” said Sexton.

“I think my little boy will be over the moon, he was talking about it during the week and it probably means more to him. He’ll chase it down now! And so will the other 10s.

“It’s there to be broken now and I’m sure some young guys will be eyeing it up.

“Look, I’m very proud to do it, but tonight was more about getting the win and moving on to what’s such a massive game now this week.”

Ireland edged a step closer to the quarter-finals with a second successive bonus-point win on the back of last weekend’s 82-8 demolition of Romania.

Tries from Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris and Mack Hansen paved the way to victory, with Bundee Aki’s double and second-half scores from James Lowe and Rob Herring capping Sexton’s landmark moment.

Sexton was withdrawn at half-time with next weekend’s pivotal Paris showdown against champions South Africa in mind.

 

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The world’s top-ranked nation emerged relatively unscathed from a bruising encounter at Stade de la Beaujoire, albeit replacement prop Finlay Bealham was forced off for a head injury assessment.

 

Head coach Andy Farrell made a dressing room speech to congratulate Sexton and says his skipper is far more than a “points-scoring machine”.

“It’s so fitting that he broke the record with a try like that,” said Farrell

“But what I would say, and I’ve said to Johnny in front of the lads in there, he can talk for himself, but the record is fantastic.

“He’d say that’s his job but it takes some doing.

“To us, as a leader, as a player, he’s a lot more than a points-scoring machine for Ireland, how he prepares his team and gets them up for every single game is more important to him and certainly to us.”

Speaking of the withdrawn Bealham, Farrell said: “Finlay’s in great spirits so he’ll go through the protocols tomorrow.

“But looking at him and speaking to the medics, they’re pretty happy with where he’s at, obviously with all the protocols, probably.”

Vaea Fifita crossed just before half-time to give Tonga brief hope in the aftermath of Peter O’Mahony’s yellow card, while William Havili kicked 11 points.

Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu conceded his team were ultimately outclassed.

“I don’t think they’re a 60-point team better than us,” he said.

“We were our worst enemy, we made some poor execution mistakes and some poor decisions, which probably inflated the score more than we would have liked.

“But you lose by 10, you lose by 50, you still lose.

“They pressured us in the air, on the ground. They’re a really complete team, a high-quality team, it’s why they’re number one in the world, so tonight too good for us.”

Johnny Sexton joked his young son will chase down his record after he became Ireland’s all-time leading points scorer in a crushing Rugby World Cup win over Tonga.

Captain Sexton stylishly surpassed former fly-half rival Ronan O’Gara with the fourth of his side’s eight tries in a thumping 59-16 Pool B success in Nantes.

The 38-year-old also kicked a penalty and four conversions en route to moving on to a career total of 1,090 Test points in the green jersey – seven clear of O’Gara’s tally of 1,083 and in 13 fewer appearances.

He gleefully celebrated his landmark score under the posts before suggesting nine-year-old Luca will one day look to eclipse the achievement.

“It’s something when you retire and finish, you can look back and be proud,” said Sexton.

“I think my little boy will be over the moon, he was talking about it during the week and it probably means more to him. He’ll chase it down now! And so will the other 10s.

“It’s there to be broken now and I’m sure some young guys will be eyeing it up.

“Look, I’m very proud to do it, but tonight was more about getting the win and moving onto what’s such a massive game now this week.”

Johnny Sexton smashed Ireland’s individual points record as his side edged closer to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a crushing 59-16 bonus-point victory over Tonga in Nantes.

The influential fly-half surpassed Ronan O’Gara’s all-time tally of 1,083 in style with the fourth of his side’s eight tries on a balmy evening at Stade de la Beaujoire.

Captain Sexton also kicked a penalty and four conversions en route to moving on to a career total of 1,090 before being withdrawn from a bruising Pool B encounter at half-time ahead of next week’s crucial clash with South Africa.

Tries from Tadhg Beirne, Caelan Doris and Mack Hansen paved the way to victory, with Bundee Aki’s double and second-half scores from James Lowe and Rob Herring capping Sexton’s landmark moment.

Vaea Fifita crossed just before half-time to give Tonga hope in the aftermath of Peter O’Mahony’s yellow card, while William Havili contributed three penalties and a conversion.

But the world’s top-ranked nation comfortably maintained their 100 per cent start to the tournament and emerged relatively unscathed moving towards pivotal Paris appointments with the Springboks and Scotland.

Despite the looming threat of the reigning world champions, head coach Andy Farrell named an extremely strong starting XV showing just four personnel changes from last weekend’s thumping 12-try triumph over Romania.

His side, unfamiliar in white shirts, were once again heavily backed on the terraces and met Tonga’s Sipi Tau by taking a collective step forwards.

Sexton slotted an early penalty to increase the volume, but Havili landed a long-range reply to level before Ireland were frustrated to have an Andrew Porter try disallowed for a knock-on by Hansen.

The disappointment proved to be fleeting as Farrell’s men remained on the front foot, culminating in Beirne collecting Doris’ pass and touching down under the posts for his third score of the tournament.

Havili landed another audacious penalty from close to halfway to cut Tonga’s deficit, but their hopes of a first win over the Six Nations champions were swiftly reduced by costly indiscipline.

Lowe was clattered in his own 22 by opposing wing Solomone Kata, gifting Ireland a penalty at the other end of the field from which Doris powered over.

Hansen – one of four men recalled by Farrell – then superbly danced through the opposition defence wide on the right to stretch the scoreboard, leading to Sexton equalling O’Gara’s previous national record.

Sexton overtook his former fly-half rival in memorable fashion to secure the bonus point.

The evergreen 38-year-old rolled back the years by effortlessly slipping through Tonga’s defence to touch down and then celebrated jubilantly with fans seated behind the posts, before regaining his composure to add a simple conversion.

Ireland were threatening to blitz the stunned underdogs.

Yet Tonga roared back and, during a series of penalties close to the Irish line, O’Mahony was sin-binned before former All Black Fifita shrugged off an early injury issue to power over.

Ireland changed their entire front row at the break, while wrapping Sexton in cotton wool.

Yet replacement tighthead prop Finlay Bealham departed for a head injury assessment after Havili kicked his third penalty of the evening, requiring the swift return of Tahdg Furlong, before substitute hooker Herring had a try chalked off on review.

Lowe eventually claimed Ireland’s fifth and official man-on-the-match Aki then propelled himself to the top of the tournament’s embryonic try-scoring charts with a quick-fire brace, both converted by Sexton’s replacement Ross Byrne.

Ireland were relatively untroubled in the second period and Herring sealed another statement win – a 15th in succession overall – ahead of two critical fixtures in the French capital.

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray says it is “great” to have his father back in good health and in France to cheer him on at his fourth – and probably final – Rugby World Cup.

The 34-year-old’s dad, Gerry, suffered serious injuries earlier this year after colliding with a truck while cycling in County Limerick.

Murray emerged as a doubt for his country’s Guinness Six Nations match with France following the incident in February but continued to play amid difficult circumstances.

 

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Friends and family of the Munster star, including Gerry, will be in Nantes on Saturday evening to watch Ireland take on Tonga.

“They’re hugely excited, it’s probably the last one (World Cup) as well so they’re definitely making the most of it,” said Murray, who has been selected to start at Stade de la Beaujoire.

“Friends are starting to come over this weekend, a few people have follow-your-team tickets and things like that.

“My dad is on his way over on the ferry as we speak. He’s in good health and he’s back golfing and doing everything he loves. It’s great that he’s able to do it.”

Murray came off the bench in Ireland’s opening Pool B match – a resounding 82-8 win over Romania in Bordeaux.

He has been preferred to Jamison Gibson-Park this weekend and will partner fellow veteran Johnny Sexton at a fourth World Cup following their appearances in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

The British and Irish Lion is excited by what Andy Farrell’s side can potentially achieve during the coming weeks.

“I am really lucky to have made four,” he said. “I’ve seen in every cycle that people fall out through injury or through favour or form.

“It’s just a grateful one (feeling), I suppose. I’m really lucky to be part of a squad, especially this one.

“They’ve all been great craic and they have all been talented squads, but this one ticks a lot of those boxes, the camaraderie we have.

“I hope that shows from the inside out, we’re a really tight group and obviously with the potential we have.

“(I’m) just excited to be part of the environment and excited about where we can go.”

Ireland continue their Rugby World Cup campaign on Saturday evening by taking on Tonga in Nantes.

Andy Farrell’s men are seeking a second successive Pool B win ahead of pivotal Paris appointments with South Africa and Scotland after beginning the competition with a thumping 82-8 success over Romania.

Here, the PA news agency picks out some of the main talking points.

Strong selection

 

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With the formidable Springboks looming large, there were suggestions head coach Farrell may make sweeping changes to his starting line-up. But the Englishman has resisted temptation and gone almost full strength. Only sidelined hooker Dan Sheehan and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park are missing from arguably his preferred XV. Farrell made clear he wishes to prioritise the immediate challenge rather than become preoccupied by potential injury setbacks and the forthcoming threat of the reigning world champions. Some fans and pundits disagree with that logic. Only time will tell if it is the correct call.

Sexton seeking more history

Johnny Sexton returned with a bang in Bordeaux. His first competitive outing in almost six months following injury and suspension included two tries as part of a 24-point haul. The impressive return propelled him above Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s leading World Cup points scorer (102) on the day he became his country’s oldest international. Further history beckons for the 38-year-old in Nantes. He needs just 10 more points to surpass O’Gara as Ireland’s outright record points scorer. Captain Sexton, who will retire after the tournament, is not contemplating personal glory. “It will be a very special moment individually but no-one else will really care,” he said.

Avoiding deja vu

Ireland require little reminder of the risks of underestimating weaker opposition at the World Cup. With influential fly-half Sexton rested, they were stunned by hosts Japan under Joe Schmidt in 2019, which ultimately led to a quarter-final exit at the hands of New Zealand. Farrell was assistant to Schmidt back then. But he insists the upset in Shizuoka has not influenced his strong selection. Ireland only need to look back to Thursday evening, when a second-string France side survived a major scare against Uruguay, for further evidence of the dangers posed by emerging nations.

Tough start for Tonga

Tonga have been drawn in the tournament’s trickiest pool, with the world’s top-ranked nation up first. Toutai Kefu’s side, who had a weekend off in round one, are well aware of their underdog status. “We’re not delusional to the challenge we face,” said assistant coach Tyler Bleyendaal. Yet the ranks of the Pacific islanders have been significantly bolstered thanks to a change of international eligibility rules. Former All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa, a World Cup winner in 2015, Charles Piutau, Augustine Pulu and Vaea Fifita are among their starting XV. Bleyendaal anticipates a physical encounter. “We’re here to really fire some shots,” said the former Munster player.

The heat is on

Ireland will welcome a significant reduction in temperature following the scorching conditions endured at Stade de Bordeaux. Farrell’s players defied heat of 36 degrees Celsius to run in 12 tries against Romania, while it was again uncomfortably warm on Friday afternoon when they trained at Stade de la Beaujoire. The forecast for Saturday’s 9pm kick-off local time is a more manageable 22 degrees, with light winds, clear skies and a low chance of precipitation following possible thundery showers earlier in the day. That said, humidity is expected to be high and will add to the intensity as Ireland once again bid to deliver under pressure.

Peter O’Mahony says Ireland squad would be lost without “characters” like Mack Hansen in their camp at the Rugby World Cup.

Wing Hansen will make his full tournament debut against Tonga on Saturday evening following a 20-minute cameo in last weekend’s 82-8 win over Romania.

Flanker O’Mahony believes the 25-year-old is among the best in the world in his position, as well an asset to the group off the field due to his fun-loving nature.

“He’s been a breath of fresh air,” said O’Mahony. “An incredible character, good person. Straight away we knew he was a top man.

“A character but above it all he’s an incredible athlete and one of the world’s best wingers at the moment.

“The overriding factor is that he’s a good person and he’s seamlessly fitted into our squad. He’s been great craic and you need characters like that.

“The beauty of the game of rugby is the different characters you get and we’d be lost without guys like this.

“Tours like this are made for being incredibly serious but the craic that fellas like this bring make it a great place to be.”

Hansen was initially a surprise omission from Andy Farrell’s match day 23 for Ireland’s Pool B opener against Romania in Bordeaux.

But he was a late addition to the bench in place of the injured Robbie Henshaw before coming on for Keith Earls.

Head coach Farrell dismissed any suggestion that Hansen had originally been left out for disciplinary reasons.

Asked by a reporter why the Connacht player was overlooked in the first instance, Farrell interjected: “Was it you who kept on asking the question last week? Where the hell did all that come from?

“Left out of the 23? No. We wanted to give someone else a game, as simple as that.

“Mack’s up next (for media), so you can ask him the question as well, ‘was he a naughty boy?’. He definitely wasn’t.”

However, when an attempt was made to ask Hansen about his coach’s comments, O’Mahony, who was sitting alongside him, stepped in, saying: “Did Andy not just answer a question about this a second ago?”

Hansen then joked: “We had a five-minute tiff whatever and we’re fine now, so it’s all good!”

The native Australian, who made his Ireland debut in last year’s Six Nations after qualifying through his Cork-born mother, is already relishing his first World Cup experience.

“It’s an absolute privilege, I didn’t know if I’d ever get the opportunity to do so,” he said, ahead of the weekend match in Nantes.

“First start, against a good Tongan team, it’s really exciting. I was lucky enough to come off the bench last week so (that) kind of settled the nerves a bit and I can really enjoy this week.

“A lot of my mates are over at the moment, so it’s tough getting Snapchats of them smoking vapes and drinking beers at 12 in the morning while I’m trying to prepare for a game.

“But it’s good craic and it’s actually been nice getting that aspect outside of playing and seeing how much a World Cup means to people.”

Hansen attracted attention following the Romania game by stripping to his underwear after swapping shirts with an opponent and giving his shorts to a fan, much to the amusement of the onlooking Farrell.

“I’m not the first person to take their shorts off after a game, I doubt I’ll be the last,” Hansen said. “I’ve been told to keep them on this week I’ll try my hardest.”

Johnny Sexton believes none of his team-mates will care if he surpasses Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s record points holder during Saturday’s clash with Tonga.

Captain Sexton is on the cusp of making history for the second successive weekend after becoming his country’s oldest international and leading World Cup points scorer in last weekend’s 82-8 thrashing of Romania.

The 38-year-old returned from an absence of almost six months to score two tries as part of an impressive 24-point haul in Bordeaux.

While he will start again in Nantes after Andy Farrell opted to go with a strong XV featuring just four personnel changes, his performance will not be influenced by chasing further personal glory.

“It’s not something that comes into my head too often,” said Sexton, who is nine points behind O’Gara’s tally of 1,083.

“Obviously I was unaware how close I was after the game last week until I came into the press conference and so now I’m getting reminded again.

“Look, it will be a very special moment individually but no one else will really care. I won’t be making decisions off the back of it.

“I want to win the game, I want to progress further in the competition and that is the only thing going through my head at the moment.”

Ireland take on the team ranked 15th in the world at Stade de la Beaujoire ahead of pivotal Paris appointments against South Africa and Scotland.

Head coach Farrell has resisted temptation for serious rotation before the showdown with the Springboks as he wishes to build momentum and not underestimate Tonga.

Hooker Ronan Kelleher, world player of the year Josh van der Flier, scrum-half Conor Murray and wing Mack Hansen have been restored.

Farrell admits “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t” in regard to possibly making wholesale changes.

“A bit of continuity from last week, it’s a different game, a different challenge,” the Englishman said of the Pool B encounter.

“Respecting the opposition is absolutely at the forefront of our minds, respecting the competition but more so respecting ourselves.

“That side that played last week hadn’t played together before, we get to roll on to this one and you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t (make changes).

“The only thing that I care about is winning this weekend because the points that are on offer is exactly the same as what’s coming down the line.”

The 48-year-old also dismissed suggestions his selection was influenced by the 2019 World Cup, when Ireland suffered a shock pool-stage loss to hosts Japan after resting key players.

“Everyone keeps talking about four years ago but we’re a different team, different circumstances, it’s a different competition,” said Farrell, who was assistant to Joe Schmidt then.

“We move on. It’s never been talked about at all.”

Veteran fly-half Sexton, who will retire following the tournament, had no interest in potentially being protected with the reigning world champions in mind.

“I don’t have any say in selection,” he said.

“I just rock up to training and do my best. Obviously I want to play, I mean when you only have a certain amount of games left of course you want to play.

“But it’s what is right for the team, what is right for different individuals and that was probably all taken into consideration. But no, I didn’t have to do much talking (with Farrell).”

Tadhg Beirne believes he and Ireland are still some way from hitting top form at the Rugby World Cup as they bid to avoid being scalped by Tonga.

The towering Munster forward is “gunning” to retain his starting spot for Saturday’s Pool B clash following a two-try turn in last weekend’s 82-8 thrashing of Romania.

Head coach Andy Farrell may opt to rotate his team in Nantes ahead of a crunch Paris showdown against reigning champions South Africa.

But British and Irish Lion Beirne – one of four players to claim a double in Ireland’s curtain raiser in Bordeaux – is eager to continue as he seeks to hit greater heights.

“Every player here wants to play,” said the 31-year-old.

“It comes around once every four years, you never know if you’re going to be fit for one, you never know if you’re going to be selected for one, and then if you get here all you want to do is put on the Irish jersey and go out and represent the country.

“I’m gunning to play again for sure. I still feel like I’ve a way to go to get to my best. I’m certainly trying to improve all the time.”

Tonga – ranked 15th in the world – are preparing for their opening match in France after the tournament schedule handed them a fixture-free opening weekend.

Beirne, who is normally deployed in Ireland’s second row but lined up at blindside flanker against Romania, is braced for a bruising encounter.

“I think physicality is going to be top of their agenda,” he said.

“They’re going to come and try and have a scalp off us for sure. They’re a serious side when you look at the team on paper. I’ve no doubt that they’re going to have a go at us.

“Physically, we certainly need to continue to step it up. From warm-up (matches) into Romania, we’ve slowly been building it but we’re nowhere near where we feel like we can be.”

Despite temperatures exceeding 20 degrees Celsius, Beirne turned up for media duties in Tours wearing a suit, shirt and tie as punishment for being slightly late to a team meeting.

He joked there may be a “French Revolution” in the Ireland squad due to the strict regime run by camp enforcers James Ryan, Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne.

“There’s a bit of a dictatorship going on at the moment,” Beirne explained. “We have three lads that call themselves the sheriffs, they’re in charge of any misdemeanours or any fines that need to be taking place.

 

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“Unfortunately, I turned up a couple of seconds late for a meeting and they decided to fine me.

 

“There’s a wheel of fortune back in the camp and they have all different punishments on it, so it could land on whatever.

“The reason it’s a dictatorship is because they’re claiming they’re above the law, so there could be a French Revolution yet.

“The power’s definitely going to their heads, particularly Dave Kilcoyne. He’s enjoying it a bit too much for people’s liking.”

Ireland sealed victory in the Racing League on a dramatic final night at Southwell.

Wales & The West went into the last of six fixtures with a two-point lead, but a treble for Ireland on Wednesday night saw the team snatch the crown from the defending champions.

Tosen Wish (6-1) opened Ireland’s account in the 38th race of the William Hill-backed competition, with Danny Sheehy doing the steering on Ado McGuinness’ charge.

Ben Curtis then secured a double aboard the David O’Meara-trained Gulliver and Thunder Moor for George Boughey in the Ireland silks, with Half Nutz and Faster Bee further bolstering their position with seconds on the card.

Ireland went into the final contest with a 48-point advantage, but Wales & The West manager Jamie Osborne opted to play his joker card, which doubled any points won.

Valsad, ridden by Osborne’s daughter Saffie and trained by Harry and Roger Charlton, duly obliged as the 4-1 favourite, but Star Harbour finished fourth for Ireland to give them a hard-fought victory, with seven points splitting the teams after 42 races.

Ireland team manager Kevin Blake was delighted to secure top honours, with his sides having previously failed to figure in the shake up, although he admitted he felt victory was unlikely three meetings in.

He said: “I think we were down 120 points at the halfway mark and two out of the first three weeks didn’t go well, but in fairness to the lads, they really started to get behind us.

“I just can’t believe it, but it is set up to be competitive and I genuinely feel for Jamie because he really thinks about this and is a genuinely one of the really good managers. It’s sweet to beat one of the good fellas.

“You could be Sir Alex Ferguson, but you are going to finish last if you don’t have trainers entering horses and running them, so we just lacked that in the first two years.

“Those first two years were hard, I’m competitive and it’s not easy turning up every week and getting a hiding, so this has turned out particularly sweet.

“I’m a difficult fella to get excited, but I’ve been jibby about this for the last couple of weeks and I’ve put a lot of hours into it.”

Jim Goldie and Paul Mulrennan made sure Scotland finished the competition in style, recording a double with Yaaser (5-1) and Sir Chauvelin (22-1).

Mulrennan said: “This is a really good competition and we’re racing around for really good money and every race is ultra-competitive. You can see the crowd that is here tonight, everyone is enjoying it.”

The Richard Hannon-trained Commander Crouch landed the opening contest for the London & The South team, with Sean Levey steering the 5-1 shot to a neck success.

“It was impressive, but I thought he could have done a little bit better,” said Levey, with the winning team having deployed a joker card to good effect.

“He’s still inexperienced and through greenness he hung all the way up the straight there and I was touch or go whether he was going to give it away, but he kept his head in-front.

“We were happy to come here today because albeit we had good weather last week, the ground has been coming up all ways. At the moment it is coming up more soft when he’s wanting it good and this is the first time he has got a consistent surface.

“We’re good with two-year-olds and hopefully he will keep improving”

Ireland are optimistic sidelined number eight Jack Conan will be fit to feature in next weekend’s Rugby World Cup showdown with defending champions South Africa in Paris.

British and Irish Lion Conan, who suffered a foot injury in his country’s opening warm-up match with Italy, missed Saturday’s 82-8 win over Romania and will once again sit out on Saturday against Tonga in Nantes.

The 31-year-old was able to take part in basic on-field training on Wednesday morning following a series of gym sessions, raising hope of him being fit for the Springboks.

Team manager Mick Kearney said: “(It was a) very good training session today and everybody came through that really well.

“Jack was out running, which was a real positive.

“While Saturday will come a little bit early for him, I think the signs are really positive in terms of being able to train fully next week, and hopefully he will be available for South Africa.”

Every other member of Andy Farrell’s 33-man squad trained fully at Ireland’s base in Tours, including centre Robbie Henshaw, who was a late withdrawal from the Romania game due to a hamstring issue, prop Dave Kilcoyne and hooker Dan Sheehan.

Asked if it was Conan’s first on-field session since arriving in France, Kearney replied: “Not since we got to Tours, but it’s his first for the last few days.

“He has been doing most of his rehab in the gym with the physios.

“Today was obviously a very big day for him in terms of getting out and running. He ran really well, it’s really positive and he was in a good place afterwards.”

Ireland intend to give veteran captain Johnny Sexton as many minutes as he can manage during the Rugby World Cup.

Fly-half Sexton returned from an absence of almost six months due to injury and suspension to lead his country to a crushing 82-8 victory over Romania in their Pool B opener in Bordeaux.

Tougher tests await the world’s top-ranked nation as next weekend’s clash against Tonga in Nantes is followed by pivotal Paris appointments with South Africa and Scotland.

Ireland face a balancing act of wanting the 38-year-old on the pitch as much as possible while ensuring he is in peak condition for the critical moments.

Defence coach Simon Easterby said: “Johnny’s not got potentially many more times wearing the green jersey and – those of you who know him – he wants to play every minute that he can.

“That will be a conversation between him and Faz (head coach Andy Farrell) and making sure that he and Faz are happy with the discussions and how they want to map out the next couple of weeks.

“But certainly from our end, he’s the captain, he’s the talisman in the squad and the more minutes he can play the better.”

Sexton scored two tries as part of a 24-point haul on Saturday afternoon to surpass Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s leading World Cup points scorer.

The oldest international in Ireland’s history, who will retire after the tournament, was replaced by Jack Crowley in the 65th minute to a standing ovation.

“I think it’s great that he got that many minutes,” said Easterby.

“He looked good, he looked fresh, he was energetic and I guess because of his age and his experience, he doesn’t tend to need a huge amount of rugby to get himself back into the swing of things.

“Training throughout the pre-season has helped that and has given him plenty of opportunities to play the game, as it were, as opposed to just training and running and doing fitness.

“It is different in a game and it’s different against opposition that we don’t know what they’re going to do all the time, that makes it a little bit more unpredictable.

“But certainly if Johnny is fit and available then it’s great for us and it means that he can keep on playing.”

Ireland fielded 10 World Cup newcomers against Romania, with rookie lock Joe McCarthy claiming one of their 12 tries.

“It is great to have so many debutants,” said Easterby. “They all produced some brilliant rugby at times.

“From that perspective, it’s more about us going week to week and having the right blend, the right dynamic in the side.

“Tonga will be a very different proposition to what we faced (on Saturday).”

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