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Johnny Sexton eyes Ronan O'Gara's record as he starts against Tonga

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Johnny Sexton will have a chance to set a new overall points record for Ireland after being selected on Thursday for their second Rugby World Cup pool B match against Tonga.

The 38-year-old fly-half is just nine points off his predecessor Ronan O’Gara’s points mark of 1,083 after scoring 24 in last Saturday’s opening 82-8 rout of Romania.

The Irish talisman says there is a greater goal for him than individual glory.

“It’s not something that comes into my head too often,” he said at a press conference.

“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, none of my team-mates are.

“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.”

More important for Farrell and Sexton is to give him some more game time as the Romania match was his first in almost six months due to injury and suspension.

The extra minutes, provided he comes through unscathed against the physical Tongans in Nantes, will serve Ireland well for the clash the following Saturday against world champions South Africa.

‘I want to play’

Farrell and Sexton engaged in some light-hearted banter when asked if there been much debate about the involvement of the 2018 World Player of the Year.

“Like, I don’t have any say in selection, I just”….” said Sexton before being interrupted by Farrell

“He does, he picks the side,” the coach said.

“I just rock up to training and do my best,” said Sexton.

“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 about being selected.”

Sexton will be partnered at half-back by Conor Murray, who for years was the first choice scrum-half but has slipped behind Jamison Gibson-Park.

Head coach Andy Farrell has made other changes to the starting XV which faced Romania, bringing in Australia-born wing Mack Hansen for Keith Earls.

The current world player of the year Josh van der Flier gets a start after being a replacement last weekend and his Leinster teammate hooker Ronan Kelleher also starts.

Ireland, ranked number one in the world, will hope to make it two from two against a Tonga side that is yet to play at this World Cup.

Farrell expects as gruelling a match as when the Irish edged Tonga’s fellow Pacific island side Samoa 17-13 in their final warm-up.

“I said a couple of weeks ago in regards to the Samoa game there are a lot of similarities within that week to this week, with the type of personnel we’re coming up against,” he said.

“We need to step up in that regard because we know that Tonga are going to see this as a great way to start their competition.”

Ireland went down to a shock defeat to hosts Japan in 2019 and Tonga too have past history in causing upsets.

They recorded a famous pool-stage win over eventual finalists France at the 2011 World Cup.

Farrell, though, says the Japan result has not been on anyone’s mind.

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“Everyone keeps talking about four years ago and I understand why… but we’re a different team, different circumstances, it’s a different competition,” said Farrell.

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

Team (15-1)

Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony; James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne; Tadhg Furlong, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter

Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Ryan Baird, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Robbie Henshaw

AFP

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