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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Joe Schmidt thrilled as Ireland put themselves in Six Nations title contention

Joe Schmidt has admitted Ireland's RBS 6 Nations destiny is back in their own hands after Saturday's 19-9 win over France in Dublin.

Ireland can now set up a title decider with England in Dublin on Saturday, March 18 with victory against Wales in Cardiff on Friday, March 10.

Schmidt's men ceded control of the tournament with their 27-22 opening-weekend loss in Scotland, but Conor Murray's try and Johnny Sexton's 11-point haul has changed the picture.

England will be expected to pitch up in Dublin chasing both a second successive Grand Slam and a world record 19th consecutive win, but must first see off Italy and Scotland at Twickenham.

Asked if Ireland's destiny is back in their own hands, Schmidt said: "Yes I think it is and I think one of the key things is that England are going to keep going full speed.

"I think Scotland have proven they are very difficult to get past.

"Losing Greig Laidlaw is a big blow for them, but they will go fully armed to Twickenham. This championship is super, it's intense, we're on the edge of our seat as coaches."

The Six Nations' new bonus-point system means that Ireland can stay in the hunt for the title with any victory in Wales.

Head coach Schmidt expects England to extend their winning streak, but has insisted Ireland can ill afford to pick apart the title-race permutations ahead of their daunting trip to Cardiff.

Schmidt, however, did admit that Ireland's final-day showdown with England would lose a degree of lustre should it not represent a winner-takes-all title battle.

"We probably haven't done the maths because we've tried to stay focused on the immediate challenge," said Schmidt of the Six Nations' latest shake-up.

"Probably because of the bonus points we gained against Scotland and Italy, and England haven't had a bonus point yet, that has helped.

"But England have had two super-tough games. And we've got Wales away to come.

"We're not thinking about anything back here at the end of the championship yet. But it will appeal a lot less to us if it's not for the championship."

Ireland were fortunate that Remi Lamerat's try was chalked off for a knock-on from Gael Fickou, having been carved open by Camille Lopez's kick-pass.

Schmidt's side battled back from another piecemeal start however, with Sexton impressing on his return after a month battling a groin injury, lasting almost 70 minutes.

The 31-year-old was subjected to the latest in a long sequence of intimidation tactics from the French, but this time emerged both unscathed and victorious.

"In a measured way I thought he was really, really positive for us," said Schmidt of Sexton.

"He varied the game, we varied it up a bit in the second half. We had to try to get them chasing things rather than chasing us.

"I thought he did it superbly, a couple of great kicks in behind. That allowed us to keep the pressure on. He never shirks his defensive responsibilities anyway, Johnny.

"We probably aimed to give him 50 to 55 (minutes), but with the nature of the game, and him having the wind knocked out of him at one point where he had a two-minute rest, we gave him a bit longer.

"It's certainly not the first time Johnny's come straight back like that. He prepares himself incredibly well, he wants to be his best all the time."

France boss Guy Noves lamented the slight knock-on from Fickou that cost his side the Lamerat try, while also admitting he struggles to chart any progress for Les Bleus in defeat.

"I don't have the impression we are progressing but we are building something that is for sure," said Noves.

"This match will gives us clues as to how to build further in the future.

"We will analyse all the situations where we had the ball and weren't able to make it count.

"It is a pity the first occasion we did break through their defence ended up with the try being disallowed because of a minuscule knock-on by Gael Fickou.

"I think we have stagnated but we have not taken a step back.

"But we are finding out by playing the high quality sides like Ireland how far we have to go."

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