Fergus McFadden says there is no point targeting Johnny Sexton
Published 13/03/2016 | 12:51
Opponents are wasting their time targeting Ireland's "talisman" fly-half Johnny Sexton, according to Fergus McFadden.
Sexton's Leinster team-mate McFadden marvelled at the British and Irish Lions' playmaker's ability to shake off big hits and keep on churning out first-class performances.
Even the usually straight-laced Sergio Parisse tried a late hit on Sexton as Ireland swept past Italy 58-15 for their first win of this year's Six Nations in Dublin on Saturday.
But in a campaign where France again tried to ruffle Sexton's feathers and England boss Eddie Jones suggested the outside-half's parents should worry about his history of concussions, McFadden hit back to laud Ireland's pivotal performer.
"Tens can get bashed around a lot in teams and when it's such a pivotal position guys are always going to target the number 10 jersey," said McFadden.
"Listen, Johnny's as tough as nails. They keep coming and he keeps getting up, he was a real talisman for us in that first-half against Italy.
"He doesn't shy away from it. In a way it plays to his strengths when guys run down his channel because he's a very physical tackler and he gets a lot of turnovers himself.
"We need Johnny to be fully fit for us next week so he can do a job on the Scots."
Ireland entered the Six Nations as defending champions but are now fighting for a mid-table finish, a return that boss Joe Schmidt has long since accepted as reasonable given the daunting injury count.
The opening draw with Wales and defeats in France and England dented Ireland's confidence, but former Leinster boss Schmidt hopes the nine-try thumping of Italy will go a long way to addressing that issue.
Leinster back-rower Josh Van der Flier again proved his vast Test potential, with bullocking Connacht lock Ultan Dillane offering another hugely promising cameo off the bench.
Ireland finished Saturday's clash with five Connacht stars on the field, a reflection of the province's fantastic Pro12 campaign.
Connacht men Finlay Bealham and Kieran Marmion lined up to praise bruising lock Dillane's Test potential, backing the 22-year-old to carve out a significant Ireland career.
"I have been playing with Ultan since we were at Corinthians a number of years ago and he has been playing like that since I first started playing with him," said prop Bealham.
"Just to see him bring it through to Pro12 level and then international level is a credit to him and the work he has put in. He is a real good mate and I am just happy for him.
"I tend to stay away from him at training. A couple of years ago he was a bit skinnier, he was all bones, and he'd put his shoulder in you and you'd be feeling it for days.
"I would stay away from him. He's a tough man.
"He puts a lot of work in and he keeps striving to get better. It'll be good to see how far he can go."
Scrum-half Marmion has had to wait patiently for chances behind Conor Murray and Eoin Reddan, and insisted he is happy to bide his time - provided he reaps the benefit in the long run.
"Ultan is a huge lad," said Marmion.
"He hasn't played that much for Connacht and when he had he has taken it with both hands.
"When there have been injuries he has stepped right up and he has a big future ahead of him.
"I have had to wait my time out for chances, I have lads like Reddan ahead of me and he has 70-odd caps.
"It is not about being thrown straight in, you have to work hard to get there.
"I have been doing that over the last few years and hopefully soon my time will come.
"I can see where Joe is coming from in that sometimes it's better not to throw guys in, for their confidence. Confidence is definitely a huge factor out there."