On the eve of his 14th and final Six Nations Championship, Johnny Sexton was asked what the tournament means to him.

Ireland’s irrepressible No.10 and captain has loomed over rugby’s grandest championship for a decade and more. He sits just seven points shy of the all-time Six Nations points record, with two games remaining in his tour of duty.

Sexton could have reached for the Grand Slam of 2018, a glory sparked by his iconic drop goal in Paris on opening weekend, or the other title wins he steered Ireland to in 2014 and 2015. He could have reached for any number of glory days against England. Instead he went back further, to the early 90s and a time before Five Nations had even become Six.

“It’s got everything really, doesn’t it? I’m as nervous this week as I was many years ago in 2010,” said the out half, who will retire from the sport at the culmination of the Rugby World Cup this autumn. “I remember going to loads of games, I remember being at a Scotland game, the Scottish guy beside me fell asleep. I was eight years old and spent most of my time looking at him, wondering why he was asleep. Whatever was in his hipflask might have had something to do with it! [Great] memories like that.”

That Sexton did reach for the image of a forlorn Scotsman, beaten by the day as much as the drink, could be down to nothing more than familiarity. See something enough times and by sheer repetition it click-click-clicks to the front of the queue, jumping ahead of more spectacular one-off frames.

Because, while Sexton’s debut season of 2010 featured a dispiriting defeat to Andy Robinson’s Scotland at Croke Park, the 37-year-old has taken out ownership rights of his Celtic cousins since. Even allowing for a couple of encounters missed through injury, Sexton has racked up 10 straight championship wins over Scotland, stretching back to his first visit to Murrayfield in 2011. In all competitions, Sexton’s win percentage against Scotland sits at a towering 86 per cent.

Tomorrow he will return from a brief injury absence for a final Murrayfield appearance, and if the locals will be all too happy to see the back of him then rest assured, Sexton is more than happy to front up to them one last time first.

This final spring campaign, in the very winter of his wondrous career, has taken on an even sharper Sextonian edge. It has been a little bit Last Dance, but a little bit Liam Neeson cleaning house too, part farewell tour – part relentless revenge mission. Sexton, a keen Irish rugby observer said this week, is “a man who takes names”. Team-mate James Lowe has described him in more colourful terms — “he’s an absolute psychopath”. The 2023 Six Nations has seen Sexton calmly but clinically striking names off the list as he goes.

Opening week offered him Warren Gatland on a platter. The Wales coach had delivered one of the lowest moments in the playmaker’s life when he left him off the 2021 Lions tour to South Africa. Sexton sliced and diced Gatland’s Wales in Cardiff, orchestrating Ireland’s irresistible attack and defending the other side of the ball ferociously.

The following week saw France, the second-ranked side in the world, come to Dublin to try to wrest the top spot from the hosts. The Irish Independent dived into the relationship between Sexton and the French, the rugby team and the nation, calling it “one of the Six Nations’ most enduring sub-plots”.

Sexton’s most soaring highs have come opposite Les Bleus. But so too have his lowest ebbs. His frustrating two-year spell in Paris at Racing 92 further twisted ties. While his afternoon was cut short through injury, Sexton had made his imprint on one of the most breathtaking championship encounters as Ireland underlined their position as the world’s best, overcoming Antoine Dupont and the French 32-19.

That knock kept Sexton out of round three against Italy and Ireland’s national neurosis over how to replace the irreplaceable reared its head again. Ross Byrne, the latest in a line of back-ups who could never possibly back him up, deputised reasonably well but the other leaders in Andy Farrell’s side stepped up too.

And so today at Murrayfield carries all of the weight it can handle: a chance for Scotland to scupper the Slam and bring a championship of their own back within reach, a chance for either side to lay down a marker ahead of a huge World Cup meeting in Paris in October. And perhaps a chance for Sexton to scratch off another name before he stares down the oldest enemy next weekend when Steve Borthwick’s England arrive in Dublin.

It would be a touch contrived to suggest Finn Russell occupies the same imprint or font size on Sexton’s list as Gatland or the French. There appears to be a lot of mutual admiration between the opposing out-halves. Nonetheless, it was Russell who went with Gatland and the Lions two years ago when Sexton did not, it is Russell who has found his way deep into the hearts of Racing 92 fans in a way Sexton did not and it is Russell who is suddenly being talked about as the sport’s foremost 10.

“In my eyes [Russell’s] probably the best fly-half in the world at the minute,” Scotland scrum-half Ben White told The Guardian this week. The Times had made the same argument the previous week. In this digital era, both cross-channel newspapers are still available in hard copy on the streets of Dublin too. One way or another, such words likely found their way in front of Sexton.

Former England coach and current Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster argued this week that Russell and Sexton are clearly the two best in the position right now, before adding “they’re quite different”. It was a typical Lancaster understatement. Seven years older, Sexton is surely wiser by dint of experience and some would argue by approach too. If Russell is so much swash then Sexton has always been more buckle. What they share is the gift of vision, even if they take what they see and do different things with it.

Russell’s signature is his unpredictability, which makes him so hard to plan for. Yet Sexton’s trademark move, the wraparound, has been predictable for a decade and yet is still incredibly effective. It is, in so many ways, a perfectly Sextonian manoeuvre. Not wildly flashy but always clever and deftly timed. Pleasing on the eye but on the head and heart too.

Ireland is not nearly ready to bid farewell to such a long-time companion. Sexton’s place in the national sporting psyche is a touch hard to define to outsiders. But there is a Tom Brady-esque quality to it in terms of both longevity and sustained excellence which ushered in unprecedented glories. In deciding ahead of time that his final act will be the grandest stage, the World Cup, there is perhaps even a touch of Zinedine Zidane and 2006.

Former Lions captain Sam Warburton said recently that no team in the world is as reliant on one man and that he meant this as a compliment. It is a curse too, but Farrell’s work in moulding this Ireland team with inspirational leaders throughout (the back row alone is stacked with them) has eased some of those nerves. That all-too familiar Irish sporting outcome — a Rugby World Cup swoon — feels less likely than before, even if the nightmare scenario of a Sexton injury was to occur.

He has played his part in that himself. In hanging around this long and leaving such an imprint on so many — there were fully 17 of his Leinster team-mates in the extended Ireland squad for this week — he has helped to Sexton-proof the panel.

“Over the course of three, four, five, six, seven years of training with him…his team-mates can build up a database, let’s call it, of images in their minds that Johnny has automatically,” said Lancaster on the Second Captain podcast. “We’re trying to accelerate the development of all those players to see what Johnny sees and behave the way Johnny behaves. It’s amazing. They probably don’t realise it…but when they finish their careers, they will appreciate how lucky they were.”

Still understated off the pitch, Sexton would likely deflect, scoff and self-deprecate at such talk. He would focus on the here and now too. Still plenty to be done. On Thursday he described Gregor Townsend’s Russell-led side of 2023 as “definitely the best Scottish team I’ve ever played”. A compliment. But maybe a curse too. The best are there to be bested after all.

At 37, Johnny Sexton is still taking names and ticking them off. Today, Murrayfield patrons might do well to have a hipflask handy.