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No Bastareaud coming down the tracks, but Sexton fit and ready for France and Danty

‘I probably felt the way front-rowers feel every day, but as a soft out-half I just didn’t hide it as well.’

IRELAND OUT-HALF Jonathan Sexton declared himself fully fit to face France on Saturday after shaking off a ‘compressed’ neck and shoulder injury that limited his training this week.

Jonathan Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sexton picked up the injury in the late stages of Ireland’s opening weekend draw at home to Wales, but sitting next to Joe Schmidt at today’s team announcement, he shrugged off the severity of the blow that left him holding his chest as he walked off to be replaced.

“I’m okay now, I just got a bang on top of the head and it just compressed my neck a little bit. But I’m fit to go and really looking forward to it,” says the 30-year-old.

“I’ll be fine – I probably felt the way front-rowers feel every day, but as a soft out-half I just didn’t hide it as well.”

Jonathan Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Leinster playmaker has always been a key focal point to Schmidt’s attacking structure and the Kiwi is understandably loathe to rule Sexton out unless an injury puts him beyond all doubt.

And so, Schmidt this week put aside his usual insistence that players should train fully all week to earn inclusion in the starting line-up. And that relaxing of unwritten rules allowed Rob Kearney re-take his place as fullback with Simon Zebo and Keith Earls only ruled out after today’s session in Maynooth.

“They got through training but at the same time we just felt they weren’t 100% fit and it was a risk,” Schmidt says of the Munster wings.

There’s nothing worse than having someone replaced early in the game who wasn’t potentially fully fit.

“And having someone come off the bench who isn’t fully fit isn’t probably the best thing to do when you’re going to Paris.”

In Paris, Ireland will come up against a team playing with levels of ambition unrecognisable to the side they beat to the top of Pool D in last year’s Rugby World Cup.

France’s Jonathan Danty is tackled by Italy’s Michele Campagnaro and Valerio Bernabo Danty was a handful for Italian tacklers last Saturday. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

However, despite the noticeable changes on show in the nervy win over Italy, Sexton still found some familiar traits – if scaled down slightly – from previous high profile battles with French centres.

“I’ve played against (Jonathan) Danty a few times when I was in Paris, and he’s pretty similar to Mathieu Bastareaud in stature.

“He’s got a lot of ball-playing abilities and speed to add to that too though. But we’ve prepared really well for it, we’ve tried to give them the respect they deserve.

Jonathan Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We’ve only had one chance to see France under their new management, but some of the new individuals they’ve thrown in have impressed – they’ve got dangerous guys across the backline.”

Sexton scoffed at the notion that Ireland – unbeaten against France since 2011 and with three straight wins under their belt – will be bullish about their chances away to Les Bleus. Instead he pointed out Ireland’s professional era record of two wins, 14 years apart.

“I don’t think you can ever go to Paris confident.

“They’re never beaten over there it’s one of the toughest places to go in international rugby.

“Just because we’ve had a little purple patch against them doesn’t mean anything now. Every Test match is different.

“They’ve brought in a new regime now, and they always seem to start well with a new regime.”

Tight turnaround for Sexton and more talking points from Schmidt’s side to face France

Sean O’Brien and the Kearneys start for Ireland, as Zebo misses out on France trip

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Sean Farrell

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