#parent | #kids | ‘We can create something a little bit special’

For the 34-year-old World Player of the Year this, finally, is the big one. Picked on the bench against Wales in 2011 and ruled out through injury against Argentina four years ago, it seems slightly incredible to think that Johnny Sexton is in line to start what will be his first World Cup quarter-final against the All Blacks.

In his distinguished career Sexton has won 93 caps, including six for the British and Irish Lions, won a Grand Slam, two more Six Nations titles and four European Cups. But it’s not stretching things to say that this is the biggest game of his career.

“Yeah, it’s the biggest,” he explained on Monday. “And in that regard then, it is the most exciting. We said it after Samoa, we said ‘Look lads, no matter who we play, this is the biggest game of our lives.’ You feel it straight away. You feel it when you wake up this morning and your mind just goes straight to the game. So sleep will probably be a challenge this week.

“But yeah, it’s where you want to be as a kid watching. I think my first memory of watching Ireland in the World Cup was against New Zealand. I think I was in Bective,” he recalled of the All Blacks’ 43-19 win in Ireland’s opening pool game of the 1995 World Cup in Johannesburg.

Sexton was nine at the time, and would be generally running around the club where his dad Jerry played. Ireland took the lead through a Gary Halpin try and, in his naivety, the nine-year-old kid thought that his country’s team would go on to win.

“It’s where you want to be,” he added, “and it’s where you want to challenge yourself. It’s where we can create something a little bit special back in the country. I am sure the country will go mad on Saturday morning, so I can’t wait for it.”

He always believed that this opportunity might knock again after the disappointment of four years ago when, looking back, Sexton admits the Irish team were a little too emotional after beating France in the pool decider. This time around he said qualification for the last eight was more a case of business as usual.

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