Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Six Nations: Ireland confident of denying Wales a Grand Slam, says fly-half Johnny Sexton

Three-way battle for Six Nations title on the cards as other contenders England host Scotland

Johnny Sexton's Ireland side are the defending Six Nations champions. Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters
Johnny Sexton's Ireland side are the defending Six Nations champions. Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

Ireland will show Wales the respect they deserve in their final Six Nations Test but believe they can end their 13-match unbeaten run and deny them a Grand Slam in Cardiff on Saturday, Johnny Sexton has said.

Wales lead the championship with 16 points while holders Ireland are third on 14, a point behind England. With England taking on Scotland later on Saturday, there is a potential three-way battle for the title.

“I don’t know if Wales feel like they are invincible. They’re saying they have forgotten how to lose and all that,” fly-half Sexton said.

“We’ve played well against teams that have been on runs before when you talk about England, New Zealand and stopping their runs.

“We’ll give them the respect they deserve. We’ll analyse them, we’ll talk about where we can get at them, where they are very strong. They look pretty tough to break down.”

Ireland, who won the Grand Slam last year, have been far from their best in this year’s championship. They lost to England in the first round and then produced unconvincing wins over Scotland and Italy, which Sexton blames on minor errors piling up.

“Honestly, there was nothing majorly broken in the first few games. There was just some uncharacteristic errors from some individuals and some break downs in just a couple of things,” Sexton added.

“That just adds up and if everyone makes a couple of mistakes then you have 30 errors and you are in a bit of trouble.”

Ben Spencer catches the ball during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot on Wednesday. David Rogers / Getty Images
Ben Spencer catches the ball during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot on Wednesday. David Rogers / Getty Images

Spencer's 'fundamentals' sound

Meanwhile, England assistant coach Steve Borthwick is confident replacement scrum-half Ben Spencer will rise to the challenge if called upon against Scotland after playing alongside the “fundamentally” correct No 9 at Saracens.

Spencer is set to play at Twickenham after Dan Robson, who has established himself as back-up for Ben Youngs, was ruled out with illness. If the 26-year-old features on Saturday it will be his first appearance in the Six Nations, although Spencer won two caps off the bench in England’s tour of South Africa last year.

“I was fortunate enough to play with Ben,” England forwards chief Borthwick said at the squad’s training camp.

“He’s a good player. He’s fast, fit and has real good fundamentals of the game. He can pass well and kicks well,” he added. “He’s had time with us last year and knows our principles of play. He’s played with and against a lot of the players here, so knows them well.”

Former lock Borthwick, confirming Robson would miss the Calcutta Cup clash, said: “Dan is not available and has left camp. We’re trying to investigate exactly what’s wrong.”

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont may not get what he wants at the Dublin summit on Thursday. Paul Childs / Reuters
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont may not get what he wants at the Dublin summit on Thursday. Paul Childs / Reuters

Nations League dead in water?

Elsewhere, World Rugby’s proposed Nations League is expected to hit the buffers at Thursday’s summit in Dublin amid opposition to the tournament.

Chairman Bill Beaumont will host the meet to be attended by representatives from all Tier 1 nations plus Fiji and Japan.

The challenge facing Beaumont is to convince the Six Nations unions to abandon ‘Project Light’ – the pooling of TV rights from the championship and autumn Tests to drive up revenue – in favour of the annual, three-tier Nations League.

However, that would involve promotion and relegation being introduced into the tournament, which some unions, including Ireland, oppose.

Updated: March 13, 2019 10:50 PM

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