Rugby World Cup: Ireland not weighed down by burden of quarter-final losing history against All Blacks, says Johnny Sexton

Winless in every single Rugby World Cup quarter-final they've ever played in, first-five Johnny Sexton insists the scars of the past hold no weight as Ireland bid to topple the All Blacks on Sunday morning (NZ time).

Ranked among the best sides in the world for most of the last two four-year cycles, the Irish will try to get that monkey off their back in Paris, but for all the Six Nations titles and Grand Slams won - and even a rare series win on Kiwi soil - nothing will beat the prestige of a World Cup triumph.

Ireland celebrate against Scotland.
Ireland celebrate against Scotland. Photo credit: Getty Images

If elite level test rugby is as much a mental game as it is a physical one, Ireland have left no stone unturned in their preparation to create their own history.

Sexton has had more than his share of losses against the All Blacks, even with a healthy sprinkling of wins in recent years.  

Now, in a game that could go a long way to securing Sexton's legacy within the game, nothing that's come before matters, as Ireland look to reach the final four of a World Cup for the first time.  

"We've worked on our mental game for the last four years," said Sexton. "We've put ourselves in different scenarios over the last four years to prepare for this.

"Each quarter-final that we haven't got through or when we haven't got through our pool, they've all been different and it's a different group again. Each of those groups lost once. It wasn't the same group losing a quarter-final year after year.

"I don't think we're carrying much baggage, it's a one-off game and we've got to prepare for it."

Despite their abysmal record in World Cup knockouts, Ireland's recent winning experience over the All Blacks will count for a lot.

Ireland celebrate during 2022's victory over the All Blacks.
Ireland celebrate during 2022's victory over the All Blacks. Photo credit: Photosport

Of the side that started in last year's third and deciding test in Wellington, where Ireland took a 32-22 victory, 13 will start again at the Stade de France.

Meanwhile, the All Blacks will have much different personnel. Of the XV that started that night, only seven will likely play in the same positions.

Helping them this week is former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, now one of coach Ian Foster's righthand men at the World Cup. Schmidt was parachuted into the All Blacks after that series loss and has had a huge say in the team beginning to return to their former glories.

Naturally, Schmidt will bring huge knowledge of what Ireland will look to do when the two sides meet. The Kiwi was the last coach to taste any success against Ireland, when he deputised for Foster, as he battled COVID-19 before the 2022 series opener at Eden Park.

Since then, Ireland have unleashed a 17-test winning streak that could extend to a world record-equalling 18 with victory on Sunday.

Sexton played seven years under Schmidt, but insists it will take more than a former coach to see the All Blacks avoid only the second quarter-final exit in their history.  

"You can see evidence of Joe's coaching through the team," he added. "I think they've made big strides over the last 12 months.

"We know it's very much a different team we're playing against. They've said it themselves, they're a very different team.

"It's a big challenge. Joe knows us well, we know him well, but Joe doesn't get to make any tackles or run any lines at the weekend.

"We just have to worry about the players we're playing against, not too much about him.

"The legacy he left in Irish rugby is massive, his record here is outstanding. We'll look forward to having a beer with him after the game."

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