'It was a call like any other, we debated it' - Joe Schmidt on the return of 'fully fit' Sexton
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is confident that Jonathan Sexton is fit enough to face France after naming the Leinster out-half to play his first game in a month, with Ulster man Paddy Jackson dropping to the bench.
“It was a call like any other, we debated it and we believe we have a good balance with both available to us this week.
“It’s very hard to come into a side and then come off the bench. He had more training time with the team this week as opposed to Paddy who is reasonably comfortable. It is a balance.
“We will probably see both players in some positions at some stage of the game.
“We have no concerns with his fitness, he has done a lot of conditioning.
“Fitness is never an issue for him, he is fully fit, he has trained well all week and is highly motivated to get back into the game.
“We know it is going to be physical. Two years ago, he came back in and got some fairly physical impacts after not playing for twelve weeks. He was super.
“You base your decisions on what they have done in the past, he has done it in the past and he is more likely to replicate it. He is confident and that gives us confidence as well.
“He was frustrated missing the first two championship games this season and he is excited by the opportunity. He takes a fair bit of responsibility, he has leadership and Paddy is developing that as well.
“It is great having two players like that because that is what you need. He took the decision with a smile and said I’ll be ready when you need for me from the bench.”
After Ian Madigan expressed an interest this week in returning home, Schmidt insisted that the decision must rest with the player although he has maintained regular contact with the unsettled Bordeaux play-maker.
“I’ve had a number of discussions with him, I respect him and he adds a lot.
“He is contracted and when you are contracted you have sold your rugby skills and he will honour that and until that time comes, we won’t push anything. It will be led by Ian himself.”
Schmidt has arguably his fittest squad available since these sides met in the 2015 World Cup and, allied with home advantage for the first time in this campaign, the Kiwi is hopeful his side can respond.
“We really hope the replacements are primed, because the French replacements are very strong and the last 30 minutes will be keenly contested, as will be the first 30 minutes.
“Niall Scannell grew into the game against Italy, Cian Healy can come on and we have a good mix of young, enthusiastic players and experienced players like Andrew Trimble who is excited to be back.
“It’s great to have a full squad, we would have liked a bit more rhythm and we are not as cohesive as we would have liked to be.
“In my first Six Nations, we only used 17 starters which helped but this season we have had to mix and match so it is a challenge.”
France won the reverse fixture in Paris last season but after two successive away games, Schmidt is hoping that home advantage can spur his side on in their renewed title assault.
“It’s great to be home after two games on the road, supporters are looking forward to it as well and people are already looking for tickets.
“It will be a raucous environment and we have trained this week with signals instead of calls because the volume will be such that we may not be able to hear.
“That support lifts the team and our team want to provide the right energy and entertainment for them to get excited about.
“France are really dangerous, the game was in the balance against England and they let it slip a fraction at 16-12.
“If they get into that position against us, they will be keen not to let that happen against us. The same happened against Scotland but they built right back into it.
“They were putting foundations in last year that look promising and hopefully they won’t come to fruition against us.”