Ireland can be Six Nations party spoilers again, says Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton slides in to score Ireland’s second try in their victory over France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Reuters)
Updated 12 March 2019
0

Ireland can be Six Nations party spoilers again, says Johnny Sexton

  • The 33-year-old World Player of the Year was pivotal in halting world champions New Zealand’s 18-game run when they recorded a first-ever win over them in Chicago in 2016
  • Ireland will win the Six Nations if they beat Wales and the injury-ravaged Scots shock England at Twickenham

MAYNOOTH: Ireland can maintain their habit of ending long winning runs by bringing Wales’s 13-game sequence to a close and crushing their Six Nations Grand Slam dreams, Johnny Sexton said on Tuesday.
The 33-year-old World Player of the Year — who showed a return to form in the 26-14 win over France last Sunday — was pivotal in halting world champions New Zealand’s 18-game run when they recorded a first-ever win over them in Chicago in November 2016.
He and the Irish followed that up by denying England a second successive Grand Slam in Dublin in 2017 and ending Eddie Jones’s side’s 18-match winning streak.
“I don’t know if Wales feel like they’re invincible, they’re saying that they’ve forgotten how to lose and all of that,” said Sexton at a press conference on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s clash in Cardiff.
“They’ve eked out some results, we’ve played well against teams that have gone on runs before; New Zealand, England; stopping their runs.
“Again, we’ll give them the respect that they absolutely deserve.
“We’ll analyze them, we’ll talk about where we can get at them, where we think they are very strong and we’ll come up with a plan.”
Sexton, who scored a sublime try against the French to end a drought dating back to 2015, said the Irish were still hopeful of defending the title.
Ireland will win the Six Nations if they beat Wales and the injury-ravaged Scots shock England at Twickenham.
“I know from talking to some of the Welsh lads on previous tours that the expectation in Wales is huge all the time and it will be at its highest this week to get a Grand Slam.
“We still have a shout (of the championship) and we know that if we get a performance then the pressure is on England and then you never know what might happen.”
Saturday’s match will also mark the end of the Six Nations careers of both head coach Joe Schmidt and inspirational captain Rory Best.
Sexton said Best — who turns 37 in August — would be much missed when he retires from Test rugby after the World Cup.
“Do you have half an hour?,” replied Sexton after being asked to list Best’s qualities.
“I think he’s been a brilliant captain for us over the years (he was appointed after the 2015 World Cup).
“Always team first, always very selfless and leads on the pitch with his actions.
“He leads off the pitch too and he’s a great character to have around.”


KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

Updated 19 March 2019
0

KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

  • Young Saudi triumphant at Open International Tournament despite just two years of training
  • Zahra Al-Qurashi took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi

JEDDAH: Zahra Al-Qurashi never expected to be where she is today: A gold medal winner in full contact kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs aged just 21. What started out as a gym class two years ago soon turned into a passion, leading to her victory in Amman on Sunday.

“I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym. I found the class and gave it a try, and decided to keep attending the classes,” she said. “A year ago, I joined Flagboxing Gym, and started training with my coach Grethe (Kraugerud). With her help, I developed my style and I am improving every day.”

Full contact is a discipline of kickboxing where punches and kicks must be delivered to legal areas of the body. According to the World Association for Kickboxing Organizations’ rules, it is legal to attack the front of the head and front and side of the torso, using “ankle-level foot sweeps.” It is prohibited to attack the throat, lower abdomen, back, legs, joints, back of the head and top of the shoulders.

A medal at her first international competition, then, speaks volumes about Al-Qurashi’s tenacity. She took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi.

“As soon as I entered the ring, everything went blank, I couldn’t hear or see anyone but my opponent, so I don’t really recall hearing my name even,” said Al-Qurashi. “I got a couple of really good kicks and punches, but she was a good opponent. I was in my own zone though, following every move and made sure I didn’t make mistakes.”

Zahra Al-Quraishi, 21, is already a gold medal winner at an international event despite being a virtual rookie in the demanding sport of kickboxing. (Supplied photos)

Hala Al-Hamrani, the owner of Flagboxing Gym in Jeddah, said: “I am over the moon. I have dreamt about this happening for 16 years, ever since I started coaching. My goal was to eventually provide the ladies of this country with an opportunity to compete.”

For approximately two months, Kraugerud, from Norway, oversaw Al-Qurashi’s workouts, adding more sparring, interval training and intense ring practice.

“I’ve had Zahra spar with men, who are bigger and stronger than her, to give her a sense of what to expect in the ring, to give her more confidence and make her mentally prepared,” said Kraugerud. “I was very proud of her as she entered the ring, you could see the respect for the sport reflected in her. We did a really good job at Flag, we really pushed for this together as a team. She’s young, but she’s talented and she will go far.”

Al-Hamrani, a member of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation, added: “We got her ready by providing her with the right practice and training. It’s a dream come true and it’s very overwhelming because it was such a long process for something like this to happen. Zahra is an up-and-coming athlete who hopefully has a long future and I’m extremely excited to see what that future holds.”

Abdul Aziz Julaidan, chairman of the Saudi MMA Federation, hailed the result after a tough bout between the two competitors, and thanked Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sport Authority, for the support he had given to the team.

Upon returning to her hometown of Jeddah, Al-Qurashi was greeted by her mother. “I was hugging her and crying and mom, being mom, asked if I was crying because I got hit,” she laughed. “That was her way of saying: I’m proud of you.”