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Ireland's Sexton admits 'sleepless nights' ahead of New Zealand clash

Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton has admitted that "sleepless nights" may have been an issue for his team due to the exciting prospect of playing the back-to-back world champions New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

Joe Schmidt's side are underdogs, but have beaten the All-Blacks in two of their last three encounters - including a 16-9 victory in Dublin in November 2018.

"I'm sure we will have something different for New Zealand in terms of set piece and phase play, things we have been holding back a little bit," admitted Sexton.

"I suppose the great confidence we can take from every time we do take that game plan and do it to the best of our ability, we often come out on the right side of the scoreboard."

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen during training. Credit: Inpho

Since the last World Cup in 2015, New Zealand have scored 267 tries in 49 tests, but All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen feels that will count for little when the two sides square off at the Tokyo Stadium on Saturday.

You know that Joe [Schmidt] does a lot of study, so that can be a strength and a weakness. I might be able to set him up.

– Steve Hansen, All Blacks

The world champions have had extra time to prepare for the crunch quarter-final against Ireland after their final pool game against Italy was called off when Typhoon Hagibis struck Japan.

However, Ireland's Sexton does not believe that will give Joe Schmidt's side an advantage in Tokyo.

"We know they are the best team in the world and we have to play our best to get there," he said.

"We can take a little bit of confidence from the fact that we have got the monkey off our back and we've done it a couple of times which gives us that belief."

This is a quarter-final of a World Cup and things are different. Even if we hadn't beaten them, anything can happen in a quarter-final - we have seen that over the years even with the All-Blacks.

– Jonathan Sexton, Ireland fly-half
Jonathan Sexton celebrates scoring a try for Ireland. Credit: INPHO

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Jonathan Sexton and scrum-half Conor Murray will set a new Ireland record in their 56th joint Test start as a half-back pairing, moving past the previous high mark held by Peter Stringer and Ronan O'Gara.

Sexton admitted he expects people to start talking about the end of his partnership with 30-year-old Murray straight after the World Cup - but vowed both men still have a big Test future.

"When we started off, we wouldn't have believed we'd go on to play this many games together," Sexton said.

"And look, we've gone from strength to strength. He's a top-quality operator, a quality pass and kicking game and all the things you'd expect from a world class scrum-half."

Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer playing against Samoa in an Autumn Series International in November 2010. Credit: INPHO

Ireland's game with the All-Blacks is live and exclusive on UTV. Coverage starts at 10.45am on Saturday 19 October. The match is also available on the ITV Hub.

Our special World Cup programme 'UTV in Japan' returns on Friday night at 11.10pm. In this edition, Simon McIntyre catches up with Ireland's 1991 World Cup hero Gordon Hamilton.

'UTV in Japan' featuring analysis from former Ireland stars Paddy Wallace and Chris Henry returns on Friday 25 October at 8.30pm.