Johnny Sexton has warned New Zealand that any repeat of their strong-arm tactics from Dublin in 2016 will lead to red cards in Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final.
British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton believes Sam Cane and Malakai Fekitoa avoiding straight dismissals in New Zealand’s 21-9 win in Dublin three years ago sparked the sport’s crackdown on high tackles.
Flanker Cane was only penalised for knocking out Robbie Henshaw with a head-high shot at a ruck, while centre Fekitoa was merely sin-binned for a crude high tackle on Simon Zebo.
New Zealand had reacted with unbridled fury to their 40-29 loss to Ireland in Chicago from a week earlier to reassert their authority in a pulsating encounter.
Ireland claimed their maiden win over New Zealand in Dublin in November, seeing off the All Blacks 16-9 – but while Sexton expects another response on Saturday, the 34-year insists there will be no repeat of that renegade physicality from the Dublin loss of 2016.
“I’m sure that’s what they’ll be speaking about going into this game, to go into it at full-tilt,” said Sexton, ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the back-to-back world champions.
“As far as that second game in 2016 went, that was almost the turning point for a lot of the rule changes about high tackles.
“Some of the yellow cards that were given out and some things that were missed, they would be reds now.
“They probably weren’t intentional at the time, but if they happened now there would be different consequences. So I don’t think it will happen again.
“They had a game recently when they went down to 14 against Australia, so I’m sure they will be very disciplined on the day.”
Sexton was Ireland’s only player to train at the Tokyo Stadium on Friday, with the rest of boss Joe Schmidt’s match squad completing their session at their training base.
The accomplished playmaker admitted he was keen not to break from routine, having always kicked at a stadium the day before a Test match.
Sexton took the hour-long bus journey from the team hotel then, but was glad of the chance to get his bearings at the ground, alongside skills coach Richie Murphy.
“I just didn’t want to break routine before a big game,” said Sexton.
“I’ve never not kicked at a stadium the day before a game, so I wasn’t going to start something new now.
“I had the bus to myself, and I had the pitch to myself, which was a bit strange.
“But I was able to chill out on the bus and I’ll do the same on the way back.”
Sexton and scrum-half Conor Murray will set a new Ireland record 56th joint Test start as a half-back pairing, moving past the previous high mark held by Peter Stringer and Ronan O’Gara.
The 87-cap Ireland fly-half Sexton admitted he expects people to start talking about the end of his partnership with 30-year-old Murray straight after the World Cup – but vowed both men still have a big Test future.
“When we started off we wouldn’t have believed we’d go on to play this many games together,” said Sexton.
“It was like two strangers, almost introducing ourselves to each other in the first two games.
“And look, we’ve gone from strength to strength. He’s a top-quality operator, a quality pass and kicking game and all the things you’d expect from a world class scrum-half.
“It’s been a pleasure to play alongside him and I hope that we have many more together.
“At the end of the World Cup people will probably start calling for our heads, saying we’re too old and that the next batch needs to come through; I can see it already.
“But we hope that we’ve got a good few more years left in us yet.”