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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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France 'don't really care' that Sexton's fit, they're worried about Ireland's back row

The Ireland out-half has been rather unfortunate against the French in recent years.

JOHNNY SEXTON HASN’T had the most enjoyable of times against France in recent seasons.

He was targeted by les Bleus in Paris last year, with Yoann Maestri’s late hit on the Ireland out-half drawing anger but no yellow card, before Sexton endured further punishment and departed injured in the 70th minute.

Jonathan Sexton Sexton practices his kicking at the Aviva today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In the 2015 World Cup clash, he lasted just 23 minutes of the crucial pool game against France, forced off with a groin injury and after being utterly emptied in the tackle by Louis Picamoles just before leaving the pitch.

The 2015 Six Nations clash? Sexton lasted the full contest on that occasion, kicking Ireland to an 18-11 success, but a year earlier he was knocked unconscious in a tackle on Mathieu Bastareaud as Ireland claimed their 2014 title in Paris.

Not the best memories, then. The out-half’s latest comeback from injury happens to be against the French tomorrow in Dublin [KO 4.50pm], although les Bleus don’t appear to be overly concerned.

“That information didn’t change anything for us,” said assistant coach Yannick Bru this afternoon before his team’s captain’s run.

I think [Paddy] Jackson played well in the first two games, and we know Johnny Sexton. Of course, it’s not good news for us but we’re ready to face him, and in fact, we don’t really care who will be the fly-half in the opposition tomorrow.

“We focus on our game plan and we’re physically ready.”

Asked if France will be looking to physically leave a mark on Sexton again this time around, Bru said they had learned their lesson in that regard last year.

Indeed, the former Toulouse hooker said it’s Ireland’s back row that is more of a concern to France.

“Last time we targeted [Sexton] we made big mistakes, so we won’t make that mistake twice,” said Bru.

Jonathan Sexton leaves the field in a stretcher Sexton was stretchered off in 2014. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We didn’t really speak about Johnny Sexton, we spoke more about Jamie Heaslip, [CJ] Stander and [Sean] O’Brien. We know they’re the force of the Irish team, you could see that in Italy, in Scotland. And Johny Sexton was not there, so we did not really think about that.”

With Damien Chouly missing through injury, Bernard le Roux comes into the French back row alongside Picamoles and Kevin Gourdon, a trio that head coach Guy Novès hopes can keep their opposite numbers quiet.

“They play fast, they have speed, skill, they don’t make many mistakes, and when you work with that intensity in the game there’s always a good performance,” said Bru of the Stander, O’Brien and Heaslip combination.

“We will try to defend against them with our defence, we know it will be a big challenge in the game tomorrow.”

Bru and France expect that trio to feature heavily in Ireland’s attacking phase play, which they view as dangerous.

Since the last World Cup, I had a lot of nightmares, so we know Ireland,” said Bru. “We know they will have possession and make a lot of phases.

“We’re ready to face them, we’ve worked on our defence. We’re convinced they will challenge us on our ability to be physically ready on their attacking phases, so we will be ready.

“In fact, we know everything about Ireland, as they know everything about France, so there won’t be a lot of surprises.”

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Murray Kinsella

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