Ireland in midst of great era – Mike Gibson

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That was Ireland and British & Irish Lions legend Mike Gibson's summation of Ireland's play in recent seasons ahead of their Six Nations opener against Wales at the weekend.

Gibson, 80, was a favourite among New Zealanders for his play with the 1966 and 1971 Lions and Ireland at home against the All Blacks and on tour in 1976 played 69 times for Ireland and 12 times for the Lions.

He was selected to tour with the 1977 Lions for an unprecedented third tour of New Zealand but was forced to withdraw due to injury.

Gibson, a five-eighths and centre, and International Rugby Hall of Fame member, praised Jonny Sexton's achievements with Ireland.

He said the last few years had been 'a wonderful time' for Irish rugby.

Sexton was a 'phenomenon', Gibson told PA Sport as Sexton shapes for his last year of rugby, culminating at the Rugby World Cup in France.

"He is a vital part of Ireland's success because of his decision-making and his influence, which is something he has demonstrated for years," Gibson said.

Working with coach Andy Farrell, they lifted the team to new heights.

"We have been successful against the All Blacks, successful also against South Africa and Australia, and these things make their mark on players.

"They can go out and say, 'I've beaten New Zealand so that I can deal with any side'. They watch the quality of Leinster, and from an international point of view, Farrell has been instrumental in allowing the side to play, to gain confidence, and the forwards are capable of dominating teams.

"We are number one in the world, which is something beyond dreams.

"The burden of being a favourite creates its own difficulties, but the expectation of the Ireland team is one of 'they can beat anybody'. Everybody is making good sound decisions when they are in possession which is key.

"The basics are done well – they are done at speed – increasing pressure on the opposition, increasing the intensity of your own play and taking advantage of every chance to score point.

"I think they have every reason to be confident and to be proud of what they have achieved. It is a wonderful period."


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