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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

Ireland delighted with returning 'world-class operators' Sexton, O'Brien and Healy

Joe Schmidt revealed that Healy was doing extras out on the pitch after the win over France.

Healy [second from right] looked in fine shape on his return.
Healy [second from right] looked in fine shape on his return.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IRELAND’S DEVIN TONER hailed the influence of out-half Johnny Sexton on his return from injury in yesterday’s 18-11 win over France.

The second row also welcomed the comebacks of Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy after long spells on the sidelines, as Joe Schmidt’s Ireland made it two wins from two in this year’s Six Nations.

Sexton’s kicking from hand was exceptional at the Aviva Stadium, while his passing was largely superb too. From the tee, the Racing Métro man kicked five penalties from five attempts to help him claim the man-of-the-match award.

“I’ve played with Johnny for years and he’s always the same,” said Toner after Ireland’s victory.

He’s always really good at controlling the game, really good at telling you what to do and really good at getting you around the corner and telling you when to tackle. He’s obviously a world-class operator.”

Back row Sean O’Brien completed almost the full game at openside flanker on his delayed return from 14 months of shoulder problems, the injury to Jamie Heaslip perhaps ensuring any plans Schmidt had to replace O’Brien late on were cancelled.

O’Brien had a six-minute stint on the sidelines when Rory Best’s yellow card meant Ireland needed to bring replacement hooker Sean Cronin onto the field.

“Sean thanked me for keeping him on for 80 minutes, he was delighted to get that,” said Schmidt. “He probably played 60 of those 80 and for the occasional minute in between he was probably getting oxygen into his lungs!

Sean O'Brien O'Brien was back in Ireland's number seven shirt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“But he trained really well all week, played really well.”

Healy, meanwhile, played the closing 18 minutes or so of the fixture, his first appearance on the pitch since hamstring surgery back in September. With the England clash on 1 March looming, the loosehead prop is showing eagerness for further involvement.

“Cian was doing extras out on the pitch after the game, he still had plenty left in the tank,” said Schmidt.

“So it’s great to get those guys back and that means there’s a little bit more internal pressure, it’s a little bit more competitive within the squad, because we’re going to have to be more competitive in some aspects of the game in two weeks time.”

Toner added his pleasure at having the Leinster pair back on the pitch, as Ireland look to retain their Six Nations title in the coming weeks.

“They’re obviously world-class players,” said Toner. “To have them back in the squad is hugely positive. I’ve played with both for a couple of years now and I think I’d be fairly familiar with them. So it’s good having them back.”

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Murray Kinsella

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