Johnny Sexton: Ireland captain says he can play in 2023 World Cup aged 38

James Ryan, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray
James Ryan (left) stood in as Ireland captain during Sexton's recent injury absence

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has not given up hope of playing at the next World Cup and says being written off fuels his motivation to keep going.

Sexton has been his country's first-choice fly-half for the best part of a decade and will be 38 by the time of the 2023 tournament in France.

"Do I think I can get there? I think I can," said Sexton, 35.

"I'm still hungry, I still love the game, I still love competing and training and being part of this team.

"I don't see any reason to stop.

"But at the age you're at, you've got to take it one year at a time."

Sexton's injuries in recent seasons

Sexton's advancing years and injuries in recent seasons have led to questions about his long-term international future.

While the 35-year-old believes some former Ireland players and members of the media wish to see him hang up his boots imminently, he intends to carry on for as long as he remains "hungry".

"Look, there have been guys in teams over the years that have gone to World Cups at 37, 38," said Sexton, who is set to return from injury against Scotland in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday.

"I want to be the best out-half in Ireland and I still have aspirations for other things as well.

"I am not going to retire just because you guys (the media) want me to. I'll keep going while I feel good and I feel hungry. I know some past players want to retire me as well - but I will crack on."

Sexton's former Leinster team-mate Brad Thorn was 36 when he was part of New Zealand's World Cup-winning squad in 2011
Sexton points out that his former Leinster team-mate Brad Thorn helped New Zealand win the 2011 World Cup at the age of 36

Fly-half taking inspiration from Thorn

Sexton was appointed national team skipper following the retirement of Rory Best after last year's World Cup in Japan.

The Leinster man is currently six short of a century of Test caps for Ireland, while only his number 10 predecessor Ronan O'Gara has scored more points for the country.

He returned to the international set-up after lockdown carrying a hamstring problem, before suffering a similar issue in the opening Autumn Nations Cup match with Wales.

Sexton played down the significance of those recent injury troubles and revealed he is drawing confidence from former Leinster team-mate Brad Thorn, who won the 2011 World Cup with New Zealand at the age of 36.

"If I do stay on and I do continue to play, it's not like it's totally alien and no one has ever done it before, especially being an out-half. I am not a player relying massively on pace over the years.

"Brad Thorn, a guy I played with, is my inspiration at the moment. I keep in touch with him a little bit. Picked his brain a couple of times."

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