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Battered and bruised, but Sexton guides Ireland to victory over France

The out-half put his concussion struggles behind him with five penalties against Les Bleus.

Ireland 18

France 11

JONATHAN SEXTON SHRUGGED off all doubts about his fitness by guiding Ireland through a bruising Six Nations victory over France in the Aviva Stadium.

The Racing Metro number 10 finished with cuts to his eye and nose on his first outing after three months out with concussion. Crucially, he also finished with five successful penalties out of five and two more Championship points added to Ireland’s tally.

Jonathan Sexton with a cut above his eye Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The pre-match focal point of Ireland’s defensive effort, Mathieu Bastareaud, became an injury worry for the visitors before kick-off. And when Sexton executed a choke tackle on the 120kg centre in the opening 10 minutes, the concern must have been palpable in Philippe Saint Andre’s coaching box.

However, the Toulon man soon grew into the game and the disruption in the blue backline instead surrounded Wesley Fofana. The Clermont man first came through a head injury assessment before relocating to the wing in place of the injured Teddy Thomas. Amidst all the shuffling, Ireland were able to make inroads (particularly before Thomas hobbled off) though referee Wayne Barnes more often than not opted to use excessive whistling force on ball-carriers who held on.

Paul OÕConnell drives a maul on Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

And so the first period came down to a matter of making kicks, and both out-halves duly fulfilled their primary function. Camille Lopez slotted his two chances, while Sexton kicked four textbook penalties, adding  to his reassuring presence in the number 10 shirt, pushing Ireland to a 12 – 6 advantage going into half-time.

The Racing Metro man appeared to fall out of his rhythm when the second half arrived with two kicks from hands misplaced. However, his pack continued to keep a grip on the game. The out-half needed stitches after another clash with Bastareaud, but Ian Madigan was on hand to extend Ireland’s advantage in his stead.

Wayne Barnes has a word with Johnny Sexton as he is treated for a head injury Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

Sexton returned as Ireland surged in attack again with France reduced to 14 men following Pascal Pape’s sin-binning for a knee on Jamie Heaslip. However, there was again a delayed sign of rust as Sexton botched the overlap attack with a pass flung into the face of Jared Payne.

That proved to be the closest Ireland would come to a game-sealing try and soon the numerical tables were turned as Rory Best was sin-binned on the hour — two minutes before Pape’s return. Ireland’s resistance withstood for the next 10 minutes, but with Best waiting to return France finally punched one hole too many in the green wall and Romain Taofifenua loped into the corner.

However, while Sexton could not be knocked off his goal-kicking stride, Lopez blinked. His conversion miss left the visitors with a seven-point deficit to chase.

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Though Les Kiss’ defence were required to dig as deep as they have ever done, they continued to win the minor skirmishes that would thwart Les Bleus. and the game ended in a crescendo of noise as Irish defenders bundled one last carrier into touch.

The champions remain unbeaten after two games and, with an unbeaten streak over France now stretching to four games, now have a mental advantage over their pool rivals ahead of the autumn World Cup.

Scorers

Ireland

Penalties: Sexton (5), Madigan

France

Penalties: Lopez (2)

Tries: Taofifenua

Ireland

15. Rob Kearney
14. Tommy Bowe
13. Jared Payne
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath (Cian Healy ’62)
2. Rory Best (Sean Cronin ’70)
3. Mike Ross (Marty Moore ’62)
4. Devin Toner (Iain Henderson ’74)
5. Paul O’Connell
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip (Jordi Murphy ’60)

France

15. Scott Spedding (Rémi Tales ’52)
14. Yoann Huget
13. Mathieu Bastareaud
12. Wesley Fofana
11. Teddy Thomas (Rémi Lamerat ’30)
10. Camille Lopez
9. Rory Kockott (Morgan Parra ’65)

1. Eddy Ben Arous (Vincent Debaty ’50)
2. Guilhem Guirado (Benjamin Kayser ’50)
3. Rabah Slimani (Uini Atonio ’50)
4. Pascal Papé (Romain Taofifenua ’65)
5. Yoann Maestri
6. Thierry Dusautoir
7. Bernard Le Roux
8. Damien Chouly

Referee: Wayne Barnes.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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