Sexton was all boxed and struggled during Ireland's defeat to England

Eddie Jones had a life-size image of Johnny Sexton on display in England camp all week to emphasise his importance to Ireland… at Twickenham, he played like a cardboard cutout

  • England took a dominant victory over Ireland in the Six Nations at Twickenham
  • Johnny Sexton struggled to get into the game due to England’s rush defence
  • Eddie Jones’ men successfully kept  the influential fly-half out of the match

At times, it seemed like Irish fly-half Johnny Sexton had been replaced by the cardboard cut-out that England keep in their team dining room.

The No 10 is so influential to Ireland’s game that Eddie Jones had his life-size image on display throughout the week.

At Twickenham the real-life version was about as useful as a paper mannequin, before being folded up and sent back to Dublin.

Johnny Sexton appears dejected after Ireland’s 24-12 Six Nations defeat to England

England set out to suffocate Sexton and he barely had the space to breathe. Before some fans had even taken their seats, Manu Tuilagi had already run straight for the Irish captain three times. Hardly a gentle welcome.

It is less than two years since Sexton was named World Player of the Year, but here he was given neither the time nor space to get anywhere near his best. Every time he looked outside to pass, England’s rush defence — led by Owen Farrell — was up in his eyeline and Sexton hesitated to get the ball away.

If he looked back inside, forwards in white shirts were foaming at the mouth and waiting to drive the Ireland fly-half into the ground.

‘They put us in some difficult places at times,’ Sexton admitted. ‘They come hard when the space is on the outside, where some teams would go a bit softer. We prepared for that and we thought were good enough to get the ball to the space but we weren’t.’

Sexton quickly lost his groove. After eight minutes, he failed to gather Ben Youngs’ grubber kick in his in-goal area and George Ford stretched through to score a gift of an opening try. 

The assessment of Andy Farrell, the Ireland coach, was blunt. ‘The reality is that they came out the box hard, got on the front foot and we took a few sucker punches,’ he said.

George Ford beat Sexton to a loose ball to score England’s first try in their win over Ireland

Sexton’s early cross-field kicks went awry and he missed his first penalty kick, to the joy of the home crowd. England had gone straight for the Irish heartbeat, with the likes of Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje leading the physicality.

‘Maro is very suffocating and does incredible things for us,’ said Lawes, who could barely see out of his swollen right eye. ‘If me and Maro can get into a swing where he makes a tackle, I make a tackle, then it can be quite effective.

‘We knocked it up a bit so we could get that dominance over them.

Sexton struggled to get time to breathe anytime he received the ball during the match

‘We put a lot of focus on defence this week and coming up both sides of the ball, out wide, and if comes back inside, making sure we are ready for that as well. It was really effective out there.’

Not only did Sexton lose the collisions, he even lost his boot. At one point in the first half he slipped over while running around in one sock, before being clattered by Sam Underhill. ‘Calm down and follow the ball,’ blasted Jaco Peyper after the frustrated Irishman complained to the South African referee.

Sexton was rattled and, from an English point of view, it was mission accomplished.

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