Fly-half Sexton will make his first appearance in six months after injury and suspension when Ireland open their World Cup account against Romania in Bordeaux.
The Lions star would have been held back from a match like this in times past, with Ireland looking to protect their most important asset. But head coach Andy Farrell has broadened Ireland’s horizons, and Sexton needs the match action.
Sexton suffered a groin injury in Ireland’s Grand Slam-sealing 29-16 win over England in Dublin in March. The 38-year-old was then suspended for “confrontational and aggressive” behaviour towards referee Jaco Peyper following Leinster’s Champions Cup final loss to La Rochelle in May.
Sexton did not even play in that match through injury, but had to sit out Ireland’s full warm-up programme with his three-match ban.
Now, the star playmaker is ready to get cracking, not least because Ireland face Tonga, South Africa and Scotland ahead in a brutal Pool B.
“Hopefully, I can go out and play well and have a good performance,” said Sexton. “I expect that of myself and there’s no excuses in that regard. I’ve been focused on this game for the last couple of months and looking forward to finally getting back on the pitch.
“I’m delighted to be back, playing for Ireland is always special, and extra special when it comes to a World Cup, so I’m very happy to be back in the team and really looking forward to it.
“Getting back fit from the injury was the first challenge and then being able to reintegrate back into the team, getting back up to speed when you’re a bit behind.
“You’ve got to work hard to stay fit and improve your fitness, so that’s what I’ve tried to do over the last couple of months. We’ve trained hard and, hopefully, it pays off on Saturday.”
Ireland have never made it to a Rugby World Cup semi-final, despite several golden generation teams falling at the last-eight hurdle. The 2019 team went to Japan with hopes high of breaking that duck, only to bomb out to New Zealand in the last eight.
Ireland enter this World Cup ranked No1 in the world, with captain Sexton and boss Farrell putting together a formidable team and gameplan.
Ireland have never made it to a Rugby World Cup semi-final, despite several golden generation teams
Ireland have made 10 changes from that March Grand Slam showdown against England to take on Romania, in a game they ought to win with something to spare.
Sexton insisted Ireland do not carry any hang-ups about their previous World Cup performances.
“I know we always get tarnished with the fact that we haven’t got past the quarter-finals, but we have some amazing memories from World Cups,” said Sexton.
“We’ve been very successful in our pools and come away with some big victories. A few have ended badly, but we’re not carrying any baggage.”