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Rugby World Cup: What next for Ireland after Johnny Sexton exit?

It was not to be the fairytale ending Ireland and Johnny Sexton were hoping for as they men in green crashed out of the 2023 World Cup with defeat to New Zealand on Saturday night.

In what was an epic contest between two title contenders, Ireland were on the wrong end of a 28-24 scoreline at the Stade de France.

A quarter-final exit has become all too familiar for Ireland supporters, with their side again failing to reach a first World Cup semi-final.

It was a game that also saw a tearful Sexton bid farewell to the international stage - the fly-half who will go down as one of the greatest players and competitors Ireland has produced.

Here’s a look back on Sexton’s achievements and what the future looks like for head coach Andy Farrell and this Ireland side.

Sexton a great servant to Ireland and Leinster

Along with the iconic Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Keith Wood, Johnny Sexton will go down as one of the all-time Irish greats.

The 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year, managed to win four Six Nations Championships, including Grand Slams in 2018 and 2023.

Selected for the British & Irish Lions in 2013 and 2017, Sexton helped the Lions win the Test series 2-1 in Australia on his first tour.

With Leinster, Sexton claimed four European Champions Cup titles, one European Challenge Cup and six Pro14 crowns.

A remarkable career for both club and country, a World Cup title would have completed an already remarkable career.

It was not to be, as Ireland came up against a ferocious All Blacks defence that held out in the thrilling final stages of the quarter-final in Paris.

The All Blacks, who are now 13/10 to win the World Cup, were clinical when they needed to be with ball in hand and Ian Foster’s side can now look forward to a semi-final clash with Argentina on Friday 20th October. 

It was to be the end of the line for veteran flanker Peter O’Mahony and Sexton, who admitted that it was a cruel way to see his Ireland career end.

"You've got to work hard for fairytale endings and we didn't get it but that's life," said Sexton.

"I'm very proud of the boys, the nation, we couldn't have done any more, it's just fine margins.

"They sucker-punched us on a few tries and that's what champion teams do. We knew they were a great side and we fell just short unfortunately.

"It's been amazing. This six weeks has been a dream - this group, these fans and I'm just gutted we couldn't do it for them."

What next for Ireland?

It will take some time for Ireland to get over another missed opportunity at a World Cup. 

Ireland were on a 17-game winning streak before their loss to the All Blacks and it was another tournament when the number one side in the world rankings failed to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

Farrell has, though, taken Irish rugby forward and has brought about a winning mentality that means they should still be able to kick on in the future.

The retirement of Sexton is of course a blow, but Ireland have a rugby philosophy which should see one of Ross Byrne or Jack Crowley step in and thrive in the No.10 jersey.

A power-based game with physicality at the breakdown and a solid set-piece, Ireland are in a good place ahead of the 2024 Six Nations.

The Irish and French are likely to be the nations battling it out for the title once again. The pair had a thrilling tussle for the championship this year and are currently streets ahead of the other nations.

France are the current favourites going into the Six Nations at 6/5, but Ireland are right there at 11/8 to make it back-to-back titles.

Biggar also bows out

Wales also bid farewell to an iconic fly-half on Saturday, as Dan Biggar played his last game for his country in their 29-17 quarter-final defeat to Argentina.

Built in the same competitive mould as Sexton, Biggar also enjoyed great success at international level with both Wales and the Lions.

Wales are 22/1 to win the Six Nations next year, with Scotland at 16/1 and England available at 6/1.

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