LONDON – Johnny Sexton waited eight long years to finally secure his first Triple Crown and in the process the Six Nations Grand Slam -- now he wants glory at next year's World Cup to erase the disappointment of the 2015 tournament.
The 32-year-old Irish fly-half's magnificent stoppage time drop goal at the end of 41 phases of play snatched victory from the French in their opening game of this season's Six Nations.
That instilled the belief in the team that saw them go on to achieve only their third Slam with a clinical win over England on Saturday.
Now Sexton is hoping these same qualities can see Ireland lift the World Cup for the first time in Japan in 2019 and banish the shattering disappointment of an injury-hit side's quarter-final loss to Argentina in 2015.
It would also provide a fairytale ending in what is likely to be head coach Joe Schmidt's final campaign of his highly successful tenure.
“He (Schmidt) is an incredible coach, his record with Irish teams speaks for itself,” Sexton told journalists. “He was three years with Leinster and got to six finals (including winning back to back European Cups).
“Five years with Ireland and we have won three championships and a Grand Slam.
“The World Cup obviously didn't go to plan but there are lots of reasons why that didn't go to plan. Hopefully we can have a good crack at the next one.”
'Bad times worthwhile'
Sexton said winning the Triple Crown and Slam was a “big high point” in his career even though it was also a “very strange feeling”.
He believes their success wouldn't have been possible without Schmidt's mastery of the smallest detail.
“He keeps you on your toes,” said Sexton. “He, eh, how do I put this nicely? At times during the week you are driven demented with him but you know he is doing it for a reason -– putting pressure on you in training, at meetings to make sure on Saturday every box is ticked, to make sure all the prep is done.”
However, Sexton -- whose partnership with scrum-half Conor Murray pulled the strings that allowed the likes of try-scoring machine Jacob Stockdale to set a new Six Nations record of seven tries -- said winning a Grand Slam makes such intensity worthwhile.
“Celebrating with the lads, they are the moments that you treasure,” said Sexton. “The moments that make the bad times worthwhile and all the sacrifices worthwhile.”
Sexton like Schmidt was delighted with how the young had blended with the old and praised fullback Rob Kearney for his extraordinary record in starting every game in the two championships (2014/15) and Grand Slam won under the Kiwi but also the 2009 Grand Slam.
However, Sexton had a word of warning for the young bloods -- like James Ryan, Dan Leavy and Stockdale -- to keep their feet on the ground.
Stockdale, though, basking in both his personal achievement and the warm glow of the Grand Slam was already setting his sights on even greater scalps.
“We've won a Grand Slam, and that's the first stepping stone to being a dominant team in world rugby,” said Stockdale, whose seven tries put him behind only England's Cyril Lowe and Scotland's Ian Smith who both scored eight tries in the old Five Nations.
“Look, Joe (Schmidt) hasn't said 'New Zealand is the target' but your ambition is to be the best team in the world and to do that you have to beat the best team in the world.
“At the minute that's New Zealand.”