Ireland's legendary fly-half Johnny Sexton is on the brink of his 100th cap - a milestone he thought was a million years away on his test debut / © AFP
Irish rugby legend Johnny Sexton says "never in a million years" would he have thought he would reach the 100 cap milestone for Ireland on his Test debut aged 24.
The 36-year-old Irish skipper and fly-half has had injury issues over the past few years but he said "touch wood" he would move from 99 Tests to 100 in the upcoming Autumn Nations Series.
The Irish are on a run of five successive victories -- including an impressive dismantling of England at the end of the Six Nations -- and Sexton could make his landmark appearance on Saturday week against Japan.
Tougher tasks on paper come next in front of welcome full houses at Lansdowne Road in the form of New Zealand and their World Cup bogey team Argentina.
"It will be a very special day for me and my family," said Sexton of the prospect of winning his 100th cap, at the launch of the Autumn Nations on Tuesday.
"Never in a million years when I won my first cap aged 24 would I have thought I would get to a 100.
"This potential milestone, touch wood, that you did not dream of is something to look forward to....if it happens yet.
"I learned last year never plan too far ahead."
Sexton has had issues with concussion, and almost every part of his body -- the most recent what he termed a "hip niggle" -- but he arrives for the series fresh having missed out somewhat controversially on the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
He puts down his longevity to being a resilient old son of a gun which has seen him inspire Ireland to three Six Nations titles including the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam and his province Leinster to four European Cup trophies.
"I hope I have improved as a player," he said.
"I have certainly built up experience with lots of ups and downs in the last 10-12 years.
"I think one thing as a 10 you have to have is the ability to bounce back.
"You have days that do not go to plan, sometimes when you least expect it.
"I hope I have always done that well (bouncing back)."
- 'I was a sponge' -
His former Leinster and Ireland team-mate Gordon D'Arcy recently compared Sexton to NFL legend Tom Brady in terms of his length of time at the top of his sport.
"I had great role models like Brad Thorn (former All Black) came to Leinster at 37 and we won the European Cup (2012) together," said Sexton.
"I used to watch him for every day for six months and learned so much about pre-match preparation.
"Paul O'Connell (former Ireland captain) is another one and played to the same age as I am.
"With professional rugby you need a little bit of luck you are one injury away from the end.
"I have been blessed. (Former Ireland and Leinster team-mate) Jamie Heaslip's career was cruelly finished tackling a tackle bag before a game.
"It is crazy how a career can finish like that."
Sexton has had to adapt to the dual responsibility of being the playmaker and captain since Rory Best retired from the latter role post the 2019 World Cup.
"It has been a new responsibility for the last couple of years," he said.
"I always try not to be overbearing and going up to the young lads.
"I was always like that. I learned more at looking at people and how they conducted themselves and they were great role models.
"I was a sponge, I did not tap them on the shoulder I went to watch them.
"I want to be a role model on the pitch and develop people that way."
One area where his role model ambitions have let him down is in the Sexton household as regards which football team to follow.
The Irish icon is a Manchester United supporter and his seven-year-old son is a Liverpool one so Sunday's 5-0 hammering of the Red Devils was extra painful.
"It has been a nightmare!" smiled Sexton.