Irish Rugby and 40+ phases at the Stade de France go hand-in-hand, it would seem.
Closing a chapter that promised so much but ultimately ended in a heartbreaking four-point quarterfinal loss to the All Blacks in 2023, it is a new dawn for Irish Rugby in 2024.
No figure played a more crucial role in the previous iteration of both Leinster and Ireland than iconic captain Johnny Sexton.
Dominating the green number ten shirt for well over a decade, Sexton played a key role in driving Irish Rugby to the pinnacle of the world rankings.
Quarterfinal disappointment aside, the 2022/23 season could not have gone any better for Sexton and his charges as they defeated the All Blacks 2 – 1 in their June series before collecting a Six Nations Grandslam months later.
Now firmly in retirement, Ireland must begin their future without their kingpin leader in the most hostile of environments when they face France in Marseille on Friday night.
Les Bleus, like their visitors, will be devastated by their one-point Rugby World Cup quarterfinal loss at the hands of South Africa. Concluding the end of what by all accounts was a nearly decade-long project to hoist the William Webb Ellis trophy on home soil on such a note had the French rugby public calling for a major inquiry.
For their part, Fabien Galthie’s side will be without their own talismanic captain as Antoine Dupont begins his journey towards selection to the French 7s rugby team.
Both players have put on iconic performances in past iterations of this titanic rivalry, with none more iconic than a moment of magic from Sexton in 2018.
Trailing by a single point with the clock deep into the red and the Irish attack struggling to make in-roads into the French defence, as he has done on so many occasions, Sexton took the responsibility on himself.
Stepping back into the pocket following 40 phases of bashing into the blue wall, Sexton pulled the trigger on an all-time crucial drop goal from 45m out.
The rest they say is history as Ireland went on to secure a Grand Slam victory four rounds later in the snow at Twickenham Stadium.