Sexton defends Ireland's performances and insists they are improving

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Ireland v Italy - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland - October 24, 2020 Ireland's Johnny Sexton during the warm up before the match Pool via REUTERS/Brian Lawless

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has delivered an impassioned defence of his side's performances this year, insisting Ireland were progressing even after defeat by England and a lacklustre win over Georgia in their last two Autumn Nations Cup matches.

The Ireland flyhalf, who is due to return to the team after injury for their final fixture of the new competition against Scotland in Dublin on Saturday, believes the team have been harshly judged.

"If you look at our results, we've lost twice to England away and we've lost to France away, we've won the rest of our games," Sexton told a news conference on Tuesday.

"If you're talking about results -- which is what test match rugby is about -- there have been plenty of Irish teams over the years that have lost at Twickenham and in France.

"Were they games we could have won? Maybe not the first England game. The second one and the French one, we definitely feel like there were things we did that got away from us."

However, he said it was unfair to suggest the side had regressed since the departure of Joe Schmidt and appointment of Andy Farrell as coach. They finished third in the Six Nations and take on the Scots for third place in the Autumn Nations Cup.

"Have we gone backwards?" he asked. "Not when you compare it to 2019. If you go and compare it to 2018 then obviously.

"We feel like we're progressing and we need to show it, and that's where the gap in opinion is really," Sexton added.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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