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There's no extra risk involved in starting Sexton against France - Joe Schmidt

Rory Best came through a contact session to be named at hooker, while Sean O’Brien is at 100%.

Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

JOE SCHMIDT SAYS there’s no extra risk involved in starting Johnny Sexton, Rory Best and Sean O’Brien against France in the Six Nations on Saturday, as all three get set to play after recovering from injury.

Sexton has been sidelined since sustaining a head injury against Australia back in November, his fourth concussion in a year, but despite the nature of that issue the Ireland head coach doesn’t believe there is any additional danger involved.

“As much a risk as it is to start anyone else really,” said Schmidt this afternoon when asked if there was a risk in picking Sexton to start against France.

“He’s very fit, he’s done a lot of training with us, he’s spent the last 12 weeks training. He just hasn’t done any contact, but he’s done plenty of contact this week and he is primed, ready to go.

I think he’s feeling very fresh. Sometimes the reverse can happen, where you do lots of contact and you’re a little bit beaten up. I think he’s feeling very refreshed and very much ready to do.”

There have been vague suggestions from les Blues coach Philippe Saint-André that his side may look to carry the ball in Sexton’s direction early on Saturday, but the same is true of every game in rugby. Every out-half is a sought-out defender.

“Their tactics will be whatever they look to do and we’ll look to counter them,” said Schmidt in relation to a possible targeting of Sexton. “The best place to do that will be Saturday, so we’re prepared for the various tactics that they may employ and I’ve no doubt that they’ll use that narrow channel sometimes.

“But they won’t want to waste the like of Yoann Huget, Teddy Thomas and Scott Spedding in the wide channels, as well as the speed and footwork that Wesley Fofana has. I think they will mix their tactics up.”

Mike Ross, Rory Best and Jack McCarthy Best has gone through contact at Carton House today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As for O’Brien, Schmidt again underlined that the openside flanker has fully recovered from the hamstring tweak he sustained in the warm-up to the Italy game last week. Ireland’s coaching staff are relieved they did not take a risk on O’Brien for that fixture.

“That was a frustration for us and Sean last week, but I think the fact that we didn’t play him, the fact that we erred on the side of caution has allowed us to have him fully fit for this weekend,” said Schmidt.

Finally, Rory Best came through a contact session at Carton House earlier today to be named in the starting team to face France, although he must show no signs of any ill effects over the next 24 hours to copperfasten his place at hooker.

The Ulsterman suffered a concussion against the Italians and was replaced after 46 minutes at Stadio Olimpico.

Rory was totally asymptomatic from post-game through to now, so he’s shown no adverse indications that the concussion was going to cause him any further difficulties,” said Schmidt.

“We just kept both Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss ready to go, because that’s the pertinent thing to do, but with Rory passing all his markers, and particularly today doing the contact session. He’s currently asymptomatic and we predict that in 24 hours he will be too, and thereby he’ll have completed all the protocols and be ready.”

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Murray Kinsella

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