‘We have to be on top of our game’ – Johnny Sexton relishing Springbok challenge and hails ‘incredible’ Ireland fans

Over 30,000 Irish fans are expected in Paris this weekend for the crucial World Cup showdown with South Africa.

Ireland have had superb support for their opening two pool wins over Romania in Bordeaux and Tonga in Nantes, with another strong showing set to flock to the Stade de France.

Sexton has played at the home of French rugby many times over the years, but he is expecting this weekend to be extra special.

“Usually it’s the French fans that make the atmosphere there,” Sexton said.

“I don’t think I’ve played a game here where we’ll have the majority of the support. To get 30,000 – rumoured to be 30,000 – (Irish) fans…The support we get for World Cups in particular, it’s incredible.

“Last week in the stadium there was just green everywhere, the week before the same, and I’m sure it will be the same again, so it’s hats off to the people that put their hand in their pocket and come over.

“It means a lot to us and we hope we give them something to cheer about.

“You soak up the atmosphere, don’t you? But it’s only when you win, that’s when you get to enjoy it.

“If you’re walking around the the stadium after a defeat it’s not the same. I’ve been able to enjoy the first two but that’s just because we’ve got some good results.”

Sexton has been in sparkling form since returning from almost six months out, and the 38-year-old out-half’s attacking spark will be crucial to Ireland’s hopes of downing the defending world champions.

“Any time you play the Springboks they have the same (aura),” Sexton maintained.

“It’s a huge jersey in international rugby. But we’re pretty proud of ours as well so it will be a great game I’m sure and we’re looking forward to it.

“You have to make certain tweaks of course, like you have to do every week.

“We had to make tweaks from Romania to Tonga, we had to make tweaks from England to Samoa, there are always tweaks, around the system they play, around the personnel they have. There’s always that going on in the background.”

Sexton can expect plenty of heavy traffic down his channel, as the Boks will come hard off the line, but the skipper is primed for the challenge.

“It’s a tough one on both sides of the ball,” he added. “Their defence is obviously renowned for its line speed. So we’ll have to be on top of our game when we have the ball.

“And then obviously the way they’ve been playing recently in terms of going wide, and then direct in certain areas of the field, and obviously a strong kicking game.

“They question every facet of your game and that’s why they’re world champions.”

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