'A soft-out half that couldn't hide the pain' - Johnny Sexton on Wales injury and full recovery for France
Johnny Sexton says he’s fit and raring to go for Ireland’s clash with France, but quickly tempered such encouraging news by claiming that expectations for a positive result in Paris shouldn’t be all that high.
As tension mounted in anticipation of Joe Schmidt naming his side to face France in the Six Nations showdown at the Stade de France, it would have been forgivable to assume that it was the confirmation of Johnny Sexton’s fitness that caused the delay in the Kiwi calling out the match day squad.
In fact, it was Munster’s Keith Earls and Simon Zebo, both of whom have been ruled out, that the head coach and management team needed additional time to decide on.
Sexton, despite being withdrawn early against Wales with what has since been called a neck problem, was not a concern to line out in the city he once called home. The out-half admitted to be being a little tender, but largely in fine fettle.
“I’m okay now. I got banged on the top of the head and compressed my neck a bit,” Sexton said at Carton House today.
“I was sore for the last few days but I’ve turned it around pretty quick and am good to go. I’m really looking forward to it now. People think I was grabbing my chest, but I was just trying to keep my shoulder up because my neck was sore.
“Look, I’ll be fine; I probably feel the same way front rowers feel every day, but a soft-out half didn’t hide it as well as those guys.”
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Before being replaced by Ian Madigan in the draw with Wales, Sexton had to first nail the penalty that would ultimately secure the spoils were shared.
He admitted that, upon contact, the trajectory of the ball had initially worried him. And, on reflection, that the draw was by no means the worst outcome possible.
“It was obviously satisfying to get the kick because it got us the draw. It was probably more satisfying because, not of the difficulty on the pitch, but conditions in terms of the wind had picked up. The older you get, the more experience you get in those situations.
“At one stage I thought it was going to veer off and then the wind kicked in the way I thought it would and thankfully it went over.
“You know a draw, we’re not overly happy with it, it’s okay .We probably did enough to win the game but, at the same time, but we probably did enough to lose the game so it was probably a fair reflection in the end.”
Since Tuesday all focus has firmly been on Guy Noves’ charges and the offensive threat they’ll surely bring to an Irish defence accused more than once of lacking width.
That said, Ireland are chasing a fourth consecutive victory over Les Bleus, though the Leinster playmaker believes that counts for little. After two years at Racing Metro, Sexton is acutely aware of what awaits Ireland in the teaming cauldron of French rugby,
“We’ve only had one chance to see them under the new management and we saw what they’re capable of. Some of the individuals they’ve brought in, I’ve been really impressed. Guys like (Virimi) Vakatawa and now they’ve brought in Teddy Thomas; they’ve pretty dangerous guys across the back line.
“I’ll leave it to Joe to talk about the forwards but from a back line point of view, they’ve dangerous across the park. Jonathan Danty, I’ve played against a few times, and he’s similar to Bastareaud in stature and has ball paying capabilities and a bit of speed too.
“We’ve won twice ever in France as an Irish team, so I don’t think you can ever go to Paris confident. They are never beaten over there and it’s one of the toughest places to go in international rugby. Just because we’ve had a little bit of a purple patch against them, doesn’t mean anything now.
“Like I said, they’re going to be a handful but we’ve prepared really well for it. We’ve tried to know them really well and give them the respect they deserve.”
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