Rugby World Cup 2023: Johnny Sexton will discuss game-time with head coach Andy Farrell - Easterby

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton and defence coach Simon Easterby
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will be given as much game-time as possible says defence coach Simon Easterby

2023 Rugby World Cup: Pool B - Ireland v Tonga

Venue: Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes Date: Saturday, 16 September Kick-off: 20:00 BST

Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Sounds and online; follow text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Ireland intend to give veteran captain Johnny Sexton as many minutes as he can manage during the Rugby World Cup.

Sexton returned from an absence of almost six months due to injury and suspension in the 82-8 win over Romania in their Pool B opener in Bordeaux.

Ireland next face Tonga on Saturday, then South Africa and Scotland.

"He's the captain, he's the talisman in the squad and the more minutes he can play the better," said Easterby of the importance of Sexton to the team.

Ireland face a balancing act of wanting the 38-year-old on the pitch as much as possible while ensuring he is in peak condition for the critical moments.

Easterby added: "Johnny's not got potentially many more times wearing the green jersey and - those of you who know him - he wants to play every minute that he can.

"That will be a conversation between him and Faz [head coach Andy Farrell] and making sure that he and Faz are happy with the discussions and how they want to map out the next couple of weeks."

Sexton 'fresh and energetic'

Sexton scored two tries as part of a 24-point haul on Saturday afternoon to surpass Ronan O'Gara as Ireland's leading World Cup points scorer.

The oldest international in Ireland's history, who will retire after the tournament, was replaced by Jack Crowley in the 65th minute to a standing ovation.

"I think it's great that he got that many minutes," said Easterby.

"He looked good, he looked fresh, he was energetic and I guess because of his age and his experience, he doesn't tend to need a huge amount of rugby to get himself back into the swing of things.

"Training throughout the pre-season has helped that and has given him plenty of opportunities to play the game, as it were, as opposed to just training and running and doing fitness.

"It is different in a game and it's different against opposition that we don't know what they're going to do all the time, that makes it a little bit more unpredictable.

"But certainly if Johnny is fit and available then it's great for us and it means that he can keep on playing."

'Real firepower among the backs'

Former Ulster player Charles Piutau
Former Ulster player Charles Piutau is part of Tonga's World Cup squad

Ireland fielded 10 World Cup newcomers against Romania, with rookie lock Joe McCarthy claiming one of their 12 tries.

"It is great to have so many debutants," said Easterby. "They all produced some brilliant rugby at times.

"From that perspective, it's more about us going week to week and having the right blend, the right dynamic in the side.

"Tonga will be a very different proposition, it's going to be another step up, but it's one we're looking forward to.

"They've got as good set-piece, they're well coached there and they can strike from pretty much anywhere with the guys they have got in their team.

"They've got guys who play top end rugby across the world.

"You only have to look at players like [Charles] Piutau and [Pita] Ahki in the centre - they've got some real firepower out in the backs and also a forward pack that can mix it."

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