Schmidt plays down England clash
Joe Schmidt has attempted to diffuse mounting expectation that Ireland's clash with England will decide this year's RBS 6 Nations.
Johnny Sexton shrugged off two bloody clashes of heads with Mathieu Bastareaud, several stitches and a healthy black eye, to mastermind Ireland's 18-11 victory over France in Dublin on Saturday.
The 29-year-old came through his return after a 12-week concussion lay-off relatively unscathed, despite several feisty confrontations with Toulon's wrecking-ball centre.
The Six Nations title-holders have now won nine matches in succession: victory over England in Dublin on March 1 would equal Ireland's best winning run of all time.
Head coach Schmidt claimed he was not aware of Ireland closing in on a record winning run, preferring to focus on avenging his side's last loss, a 13-10 defeat to England at Twickenham last February.
"A game against England is our next one and that's what we're planning for," said Schmidt of the clash between the Six Nations' only remaining unbeaten teams.
"I've got too much respect for my old mates Warren Gatland and Vern Cotter in Wales and Scotland, and I think that those two going head-to-head tomorrow, one of those two teams will come back into the competition with a win and it's all on again.
"That's one of the things I think is fantastic about the championship: that it is so tight and so difficult to win, and you can never say that you've got your nose in front until you get to that end point."
British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton fired 15 points with the boot against France and marshalled his side as though his 12-week absence for four concussions in 12 months had never even happened.
The Racing Metro playmaker was central to his side's victory, with Schmidt praising his bravery - but continuing to sidestep the pivotal nature of the England clash.
"I didn't know that was a record," said Schmidt of Ireland's chance to equal their best-ever 10 wins on the spin against England.
"I do know it will be a year since we last lost to England and we'll be back facing the same foe, and it's one that I have massive respect for.
"They have a really well-balanced team, they are well-organised and well coached, and hopefully we can demonstrate a little bit of killer instinct and accuracy to get our noses in front.
"I thought their performance against Wales was probably better than anything we've produced so far, so we're going to have to be better again."
Ireland's Kiwi boss Schmidt confirmed Sexton suffered no symptoms or effects of concussion at all in either of his most bruising confrontations with Bastareaud.
Sexton left the field to receive stitches after the first collision, where medics checked him for concussion just as a precaution.
Schmidt hailed Sexton's gritty courage in seeking out chances to face down France's most intimidating backline presence.
"We knew he was okay, he was off for blood, had had to be sutured, he's got a few stitches and a shiner," said Schmidt of Sexton's initial cuts from contact with Bastareaud.
"We were more worried about that shiner blowing up a bit. It's hard to judge distance if that happens, so we were a little worried.
"Our medical team did an HIA on him anyway just to make sure, but he started giving out to the doc, so the doc knew he was pretty lucid because that's just like Johnny.
"He never shirks anything: and that's the concern I can have with Johnny because I know he's not going to give any quarter, and he's not going to back off.
"When Bastareaud came at him he got Bastareaud's elbow a couple of times, and you do worry because you know he's not going to back off.
"I've no doubt that Racing will be delighted to have him back and Johnny will be relatively happy to play (against Clermont next weekend), he feels he needs to get back into the saddle and get some rhythm.
"He's feeling great, so he's actually probably putting his hand up himself and looking to play."
Schmidt admitted number eight Jamie Heaslip suffered a lower back problem when kneed by Pascal Pape, in a challenge that landed the France lock in the sin-bin.
"He's very uncomfortable at the moment: he got a knee in the lower back," said Schmidt. "So we'll get him checked out over the next couple of days."
Frustrated France boss Philippe Saint-Andre believes his side are not as poor as the rabble currently perceived by the masses.
France will face Ireland again in Pool D of this year's World Cup, but Les Bleus' coach said defeat in Dublin will have no impact on that clash.
"To be honest: no," he said of any lingering impact for the World Cup rematch.
"Ireland are a good team but I don't think we are as bad as people think.
"They are favourites for the Six Nations, but we must examine our discipline and how we retain the ball to have any chance of beating Wales."