Saturday 19 August 2017

Schmidt backs Sexton to call tune

Ireland coach reckons No 10 will conduct Irish orchestra against France

Ireland's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt had no hesitation in restoring Johnny Sexton to the No 10 shirt for Ireland's pivotal Six Nations clash with France and he has backed his maestro to orchestrate a performance.

Sexton has put together just 172 minutes of rugby since limping out of Ireland's defeat to New Zealand in November as a series of soft-tissue injuries have disrupted his campaign.

Paddy Jackson has started the two games so far in this year's tournament, but he has been relegated the bench for the must-win battle with France who have made three changes to their side as Yoann Huget, Rabah Slimani and Bernard Le Roux come in.

Despite having trained fully with the team just twice, Schmidt said Sexton is close to full fitness. His inclusion is one of three changes to the team that beat Italy as Rory Best returns to captain the side and Jack McGrath comes in for Cian Healy.

"He's a great orchestrator of play," Schmidt said.

"He navigates us around the pitch really well and he sees things very much early and that allows other players to get into good positions.

"He brings other players into the game well because his experience is such that his option-taking is often very good and he varies play well.

"There's a real freshness, a spring in his step. Johnny feels great and that's great for us. He will bring that energy into the group.

"He has a real competitive edge, and that's not taking anything away from Paddy, because if you go back and look at what Paddy has offered, and go back to South Africa, the number of tackles and the people he was tackling, Paddy was exceptional.

"He is an incredible competitor as well. It's just Johnny's know-how. He's been there more often, he knows probably a little bit more as far as predicting what's going to happen, how he can close it down or how he can get people into the right places to help him close it down.

"Because it's a position that so much is demanded of the person who plays it, it's one of those things that you want to accumulate those experiences to have a better ability to predict what the circumstances are likely to throw at you and therefore try to be a little bit ahead of the game.

"I guess he just brings a little bit of an edge to things, because that's who he is and how he plays."

Irish Independent

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