Veteran Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has not conceded to talk of him retiring before the next Rugby World Cup in 2023.
The Leinster fly-half will be 38 by the time the tournament takes place in France in three years’ time, and a series of injuries have led to some questioning his longevity.
Troubled by a hamstring injury that has allowed Billy Burns and Ross Byrne opportunities to play in the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup, the British & Irish Lion stressed his intent to prove the cynics wrong.
“Look, there have been guys in teams over the years that have gone to World Cups at 37, 38,” said 100-Test Sexton, who is set to return from injury against Scotland on Saturday.
“Do I think I can get there? I think I can. But at the age you’re at, you’ve got to take it one year at a time.
“I’m still hungry, I still love the game, I still love competing, I still love training and being part of this team. I don’t see any reason to stop.
“I want to be the best out-half in Ireland and I still have aspirations for other things as well.
“I am not going to retire just because you guys (the media) want me to. I’ll keep going while I feel good and I feel hungry. I know some past players want to retire me as well – but I will crack on.”
Sexton entered 2020 as an injury doubt for the beginning Six Nations after suffering a torn MCL in the Champions Cup against Northampton Saints.
But he was able to win his race to be fit and featured in every one of Ireland’s Six Nations matches prior to lockdown halting the competition in its tracks in March.
Citing former Leinster team-mate Brad Thorn winning the World Cup with the All Blacks in 2011 at the age of 36, Sexton now works harder than ever before to keep his body in peak condition.
“Professional rugby, injury is just part of it. I feel good when I’m out there on the pitch,” said Sexton.
“You’re only a big injury from being finished totally, no matter what age you are.
“And then it’s just about getting out there and trying to perform and prove that there’s more in me, and I feel there is. I feel I can get to another level and the day that that’s not (the case) is the day I will walk away.
“Brad Thorn, a guy I played with, is my inspiration at the moment. I keep in touch with him a little bit. Picked his brain a couple of times.”