Earl and England look ahead to Rugby World Cup semi-final
Ireland stars poked fun at retiring captain Johnny Sexton on a packed-out flight home from the Rugby World Cup. Jack Conan took charge of the antics, with the team attempting to make light of an unfortunate situation after being dumped out of the tournament by New Zealand.
Sexton was hoping to end his professional rugby career on a high by taking Ireland all the way in France. They made a statement of intent by notching a pool stage win over reigning champions South Africa, but ultimately fell short in their quarter-final meeting with the All Blacks.
The 28-24 defeat denied Sexton a run to Ireland’s first-ever Rugby World Cup semi-final, ending his career on a sombre note. The 38-year-old was visibly emotional after the final whistle, saying: “It’s small margins and that’s sport. That’s life. It’s gutting, isn’t it?”
Spirits were in the process of being lifted when the boys in green flew home from France on Monday, however, with Conan addressing plane passengers over the intercom.
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“Everyone move up and congratulate [Sexton] personally,” he said in a video circulating on social media. “Make it single-file. Come up and give him a pat on the back, a hug and a kiss – he’d love that.
“He’ll be over the moon. [He’ll] take photos, answer questions, anything you want, Johnny is just delighted to meet everyone. He has all the time today for everyone. Please take your time, come up and say hello to him. He is just so ecstatic about it all.”
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Sexton has retired with a colossal 1,108 points in 119 matches for Ireland, as well as successful spells at club level with Leinster and Racing 92. Conan paid an emotional tribute to the 38-year-old after the devastating defeat to New Zealand.
“We’re genuinely just gutted that we couldn’t do it for Johnny,” he admitted. “He’s someone who deserves so much for the sacrifices he has made, for the player he is and for the man he is, for the leader that he is.
“He has been everything that has been good about Irish rugby for nearly two decades and to not give him the send-off that he deserves is probably the hardest thing to take. He is how we measure ourselves, he is the standards setter, he is the leader.”
Ireland will be forced to watch on from home when the Rugby World Cup semi-finals are played out later this week. Argentina face the All Blacks on Friday evening before a bumper clash between England and South Africa on Saturday.
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