Jonathan Sexton will weather the stormy onslaught of French players expected to target him, former Irish head coach Eddie Sullivan said today.
The returning Irish star will have to contend with very physical challenges from the likes of the formidable Mathieu Bastareaud in the opening minutes at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow, he said.
The 29-year-old Irishman will be starting ‘cold’ as he has had no match experience after returning to the fray after a 12-week layoff as a result of repeated concussions.
O’Sullivan said on Newstalk’s Breakfast radio show that Sexton can expect “a lot of traffic down his channel”.
“No doubt about it, they’ll target him because he’s coming back and he’s been short of match practice. He’s well known in France so they will go after him,” he said.
“We would do the same with any player we thought was coming back from the long haul. You test him early on.
“Joe Schmidt will expect Jonathan Sexton to see a lot of traffic down his channel early in the game.
“It’ll probably be Mathieu Bastareaud in full flight, which is a frightening thought for anybody,” said O’Sullivan.
“Once Sexton settles into the game ... he’ll be fine. But we have to accept there is a slight risk element there,” he added.
Irish coach Schmidt has become visibly annoyed at questions over Sexton’s fitness. Any idea that Sexton was not fit was “a misconception,” said Schmidt.
Former French rugby international, journalist Laurent Benezech, has warned that the 19-stone French behemoth Bastardeaud will run straight at Sexton when the game begins.
Bastardeuad knocked Sexton unconscious in Paris last year when Ireland overcame the French.
If Sexton gets another serious knock, he could be out of the rugby “maybe indefinitely”, he said.
But Eddie O’Sullivan was satisfied that Sexton was up to the task of meeting the French attentions.
“There is no question he would not be on the field on Saturday unless he was 100pc fit and 100pc ready to go.
“Remember, he was cleared by the French medics...so it wasn’t even an Irish decision to release him back to Ireland.
“And then Ireland doubled down and said ‘we agree, set to go.
“The big problem and the big risk is that for a player to step back into this arena after such a long layoff in such a pivotal position. It’s a massive step to take,” he said.
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