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Friday 22 September 2017

Dusautoir: Sexton is not a target

Thierry Dusautoir, pictured, says Johnny Sexton 'adds a lot of strength at half-back'
Thierry Dusautoir, pictured, says Johnny Sexton 'adds a lot of strength at half-back'

France captain Thierry Dusautoir has attempted to downplay Les Bleus' determination to single out fit-again Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton in Dublin on Saturday.

Toulouse flanker Dusautoir claimed the 29-year-old British and Irish Lion is not being seen as a target, despite France boss Philippe Saint-Andre telling his side to expose any weakness in Sexton, who returns after a 12-week concussion lay-off.

Ireland have steadfastly maintained the position that Sexton is fine to return after his three-month absence for suffering four concussions in 12 months.

France spent the early part of the week heaping the pressure on Sexton - but took an almost coordinated step backwards on Friday, with assistant coach Yannick Bru echoing Dusautoir's sentiments.

"I don't view him as a target," said France skipper Dusautoir, ahead of Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash against Ireland in Dublin.

"This Ireland team has far too many threats and good players to focus solely on one.

"He wouldn't be playing if he hadn't met all the concussion demands.

"He's not the only player with experience and power returning either: they have Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien back, so I wouldn't want to concentrate on one man like that.

"It's a team that has huge experience returning after Italy.

"There's a lot of strength in there; Sexton adds a lot of strength at half-back."

Former France international Laurent Benezech has labelled Ireland's decision to pitch Sexton straight back into action after his enforced concussion absence as "a big mistake".

France flanker Bernard Le Roux joked his Racing Metro club-mate Sexton should "wear a helmet" in Saturday's Aviva Stadium battle.

Les Bleus boss Saint-Andre was not being light-hearted when pledging to send wrecking-ball centre Mathieu Bastareaud straight down Sexton's channel from the off this weekend.

When it came to the turn of Dusautoir and Bru however, on Irish soil amid eve-of-match fervour, the France duo chose to diffuse what they could of the steadily-building intensity.

"We respect him a great deal, he is a huge character - and we will not target him, we will just concentrate on our game, on our efficiency," said France assistant coach Bru.

"Obviously first of all it's very bad news for us that Johnny Sexton is playing in this game, because it's a different Ireland team with him than without him, as we saw last week.

"To target him would be to forget that Joe Schmidt is very clever.

"So we will play the game as though Johnny was not there.

"We've worked a lot on what we can control: so with Johnny, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip back fit: it's good news for Ireland but bad news for us."

France will face a former Clermont coach for the second time in as many Six Nations weeks, after seeing off Vern Cotter's Scotland 15-8 in Paris last weekend.

Former Toulouse hooker Bru admitted France's players "expect to be surprised" by wily Ireland boss Schmidt's ever-expanding repertoire of set plays, that he adapts according to each opponent.

"He's clever and he works well, he's a tough coach," said Bru of Schmidt.

"The guys know that they will be surprised.

"We are arriving at a place where he will want to attack us.

"We know him as a coach, and the guys expect to be surprised."

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