Johnny Sexton feels added responsibility with eyes of nation on Ireland
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton feels greater responsibility to perform against Italy this weekend as strict coronavirus rules may mean the whole nation is watching.
Fly-half Sexton has declared himself fit and ready for the resumption of the Guinness Six Nations following a minor hamstring complaint.
Saturday’s game in Dublin will be played at the end of a week in which the Irish government will move the country to the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions, broadly similar to the spring lockdown.
Sexton admits his team are mindful of the situation and determined to provide a morale boost for those stuck at home.
“It’s not so much putting on a show but more you feel a bigger responsibility with the restrictions that have come in now and the country has gone back to level five,” he said.
“There’s obviously a sense that the whole country will be watching us. Most of the time we’re very lucky that we are always being looked at but I suppose it’s an even bigger responsibility.
“I suppose Italy are going to be in the same boat as us. Both teams will be very motivated.
“Any time you play for Ireland it’s a big responsibility. But there’s a little bit of extra onus on us this week.
“Putting on a show isn’t something we’ve spoken about but putting in a good performance is something we are very conscious of and want to do.
“We need to win the game first and foremost.”
Having joined up with the national team carrying a niggle, 35-year-old Sexton is confident he will be involved at the Aviva Stadium.
“I trained fully on Saturday – was sort of being managed a little bit on Saturday – and then trained fully today,” said the Leinster man.
“I feel good, thankfully. I did some good work over the last couple of weeks so hopefully I will be able to hit the ground running on Saturday.”
The original Six Nations fixture between Ireland and Italy was among the first sporting events to be postponed when the global pandemic took hold early this year.
After starting the competition with successive home victories over Scotland and Wales, Andy Farrell’s side have had plenty of time to stew on defeat to England at Twickenham before the enforced break.
The Irish are currently four points behind joint leaders England and France, albeit with a game in hand over their title rivals.
Sexton says there have been major changes behind the scenes but insists the players feel “privileged” to be back at work.
“It’s world’s apart, everything is different,” he said.
We're very lucky and privileged to be able to do what we love to do, which is get a chance to represent Ireland and be together. We're the lucky ones.
“We’re living together essentially in the same bubble but we still have to maintain social distancing at dinner. We’re only (allowed) three at a table, you’re queuing two metres apart, all the restrictions that apply outside essentially are applying to us.
“It’s not like normal camp but it’s the new normal now. We’ve had a good few days together and we’re slowly getting used to it.
“We’re very lucky and privileged to be able to do what we love to do, which is get a chance to represent Ireland and be together. We’re the lucky ones.
“There were fears that if the country went to level five would we be able to play at all so we’re very grateful for the chance to be able to continue.”