Rugby World Cup 2011
Sexton calls on fellow young guns to fire
ESPNscrum Staff
September 9, 2011
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton warms up in training, Ireland training session, Lansdowne Road, Dublin, Ireland, March 18, 2011
Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton is keen to impress on his World Cup debut © Getty Images

Jonathan Sexton believes that Ireland's younger players have a key role to perform at the World Cup, unburdened as they are by the pain of the squad's calamitous campaign in France four years ago.

The Irish went into the 2007 tournament high on confidence but they suffered a humiliating first-round exit after defeats to pool rivals France and Argentina and scarcely deserved victories over minnows Namibia and Georgia.

Lock Donncha O'Callaghan admitted earlier this week that the players involved were left scarred by the experience. Consequently, Sexton believes that he and his fellow World Cup debutants need to lead the way in Ireland's tournament opener against the United States on Sunday.

"I was shocked at the way it went in 2007. The players were in such good condition, but it just didn't fall into place for them," the Leinster fly-half said.

"Hopefully the guys who were there have learnt from the lessons and will use their experience. But we have a lot of young lads who have no baggage and are dying to play in the World Cup.

"Hopefully that mix of youth and experience will be good. Maybe some of us younger guys can take the lead. The more experienced lads are humble, they don't mind being barked at by us."

However, Ireland's recent form does not bode well for their chances of success in New Zealand. They lost all four of their warm-up games and there is a perception that this is a side that has been in a steady decline since their historic Grand Slam success of two years ago. Sexton, though, insists that morale in the Irish camp remains high.

"There were some disappointing results. We wanted to win the games, I'm not going to lie about that," the two-time Heineken Cup winner said.

"Maybe at times we played those games like friendlies, viewing them just as warm-up games where results didn't matter. But this is the World Cup, this is what we're here for. Maybe we'll look back on those four matches as an important time when we learnt some harsh lessons.

"In 2007 the lads were undercooked and learnt a lot of lessons during the pool games. We wanted to make sure we had four really tough games to get a lot of the rustiness and mistakes out. Now we're set to go and there can be no more excuses from here on in.

"We're taking it week by week in the pool. All we want to do is get out of our group, we've learnt that from the Heineken Cup. When we do that we'll be three wins away from lifting the trophy and we can set our goals then. If we perform to the best of our ability we're capable of causing a few surprises."

Sexton has been picked to start at No.10 on Sunday ahead of veteran fly-half Ronan O'Gara and the Dubliner will be joined in the half-backs by Conor Murray, who only broke into the Munster team earlier this year.

"Conor's had a great 2011. This time last season he was on a development contract and then got his break," he said.

"Everyone's career starts at a certain point. He took his opportunity with Munster and impressed, then took his chance with Ireland and impressed there. He's gone from strength to strength.

"He's very laid back and I was shocked that he's so laid back. That's a good trait to have and he seems to take everything back in his stride. We seem to work together."

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