Sexton praises England rival Farrell ahead of likely landmark

Owen Farrell (R) is an exceptional leader and a great ambassador for England’s rugby team, said Ireland captain Johnny Sexton (C) before the Englishman won his 100th cap for his country on Saturday.

GLYN KIRK

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Ireland captain Johnny Sexton on Wednesday paid tribute to Owen Farrell who is set to become the third England player to reach the 100 mark, saying “his leadership is exceptional”.

Sexton reached that landmark against Japan in November last year and his British and Irish Lions team-mate from the 2017 series tie with New Zealand is set to do so on Saturday.

England manager Eddie Jones is set to name his squad to face the All Blacks on Thursday.

“Exceptional,” Sexton said of Farrell during his press conference on Wednesday.

“He’s been an incredible player for England over the years and how good he is you can see when he’s not here, when he’s gone.

“He’s that glue that holds the team together.

“I’ve played with him and been in a dressing room with him where his leadership is exceptional.”

Sexton – who declared himself fit to face Australia in the final Irish Test of the year on Saturday after recovering from a dead leg – said he would be in touch with the coach’s son- Irish chef Andy Farrell.

“He’s going into an even more unique place – there aren’t many England players who have reached 100 caps,” said Sexton, who is one of eight Irish players to have done so.

Only scrum-half Ben Youngs, who has 119 caps and is on the bench against Japan, and retired prop Jason Leonard, with 114, have reached the centenary for England.

“I think there are only two before him, so it’s an incredible achievement for him.

“I’ll drop him a line at some point and say congratulations. A great ambassador for this team.”

Sexton and Farrell are both ultra-competitive and the Irish talisman admitted that it’s not always smooth and light between them.

“We also had a few bumps, so it’s not as comfortable as everyone thinks!” said Sexton.

“But no, he’s a great competitor. Utmost respect for him and he’s a guy I’ve watched closely over the years.

“I was lucky to have played with him and tried to take some of his game and put it into my game.

“My words won’t do him justice, I don’t think.”