Thursday 27 October 2016

Sexton doesn't need our protection: Best

Ireland out-half the centre of attention ahead of Six Nations battle but his captain reckons he can handle himself when the England big men come calling at Twickenham this afternoon

Published 27/02/2016 | 02:30

Johnny Sexton walks out at Twickenham for Ireland’s captain’s run ahead of today’s Six Nations showdown with England. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Johnny Sexton walks out at Twickenham for Ireland’s captain’s run ahead of today’s Six Nations showdown with England. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Rory Best. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA

Ireland captain Rory Best has dismissed fears around the well-being of out-half Johnny Sexton ahead of today's clash between England and Ireland at Twickenham.

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England coach Eddie Jones controversially claimed the 30-year-old's parents will be worried about him as he takes the field for his 59th cap for his country as a result of the 'whiplash' injury he suffered against Wales and France. Jones' outburst has focused attention on Sexton ahead of the crunch clash as the Australian refused to rule out his side targeting Ireland's playmaker this afternoon.

While Best refused to hit back at the comments, he said his long-time colleague would need no protection or special treatment ahead of the kick-off.

"I think if I put an arm around Johnny he'd definitely be wondering what's wrong," the Ulster man said.

"Johnny's a very, very strong personality. He's got an unbelievable will to win and he's a competitor. He doesn't need an arm put around him.

"He's the guy that puts the arm around boys and looks after boys to make sure that our standards (are maintained), he's the gauge of where our standards are because he expects the highest of standards.

"Whenever he's reasonably happy, because he's never happy, you know you're in a fairly good place.

"In terms of all that, there's been a lot of made, you know, teams have targeted Johnny or said they're going to target Johnny and I'm sure that will continue in the future.

"He's a big boy, he can deal with it and obviously family is very, very important to him and I'm sure he's been talking to them, but in terms of an arm around Johnny, he's the life and soul of not just our senior player group but our collective.

"I think everyone knows, whatever team you play in, you support and look after your out-half and it's no different with us and Johnny."

Best won't be cutting out Jones' comments and sticking them up on the wall for motivation, believing that players will be up for this game regardless of the England coach's criticism of Ireland's game-plan and questions over Sexton's health.

"No, we are trying to concentrate on the rugby. We give England the respect they deserve and they deserve a lot of respect," he said.

"Even if you look back on the last two Six Nations, they are a side that's always there or thereabouts and they've been building something for a good few years now.

"Obviously, they've a new coaching system this year, but they have had two good wins to start. We've enough to do with making sure that, from a rugby point of view, we get our stuff right. If you need any extra motivation other than playing for your country at Twickenham, for me you're in the wrong changing-room anyway."

Ireland have no fresh injury concerns after yesterday's Captain's Run at Twickenham passed without incident. After a draw with Wales and defeat to France, Joe Schmidt's side are going in search of an unlikely first win of the campaign.

Meanwhile, former Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer has signed a one-year contract extension with Sale Sharks.

Irish Independent

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