Sunday 18 March 2018

Ireland's Andrew Trimble: Johnny Sexton won't be fazed by Eddie Jones' comments

Andrew Trimble, pictured, says team-mate Johnny Sexton will rise above Eddie Jones' remarks
Andrew Trimble, pictured, says team-mate Johnny Sexton will rise above Eddie Jones' remarks

Johnny Sexton will be unfazed by England boss Eddie Jones questioning his long-term health, according to Andrew Trimble.

England head coach Jones questioned the wisdom of Ireland pitching Sexton straight back into RBS 6 Nations action this weekend, after the neck injury he suffered in the 10-9 defeat in France on February 13.

"I'm sure his mother and father would be worried about that," Jones claimed, when discussing what Ireland boss Joe Schmidt had termed a "whiplash injury".

Ireland head coach Schmidt fended off the brickbats by reasserting Sexton's full fitness and readiness for action at Twickenham, before team-mate Trimble leapt to the Leinster fly-half's defence.

"I don't think Johnny will be frustrated by any of that in the slightest," Trimble said. "I think there's been enough talk about it.

"You can read comments about it, but it doesn't actually make an impact on what happens on the pitch.

"If Johnny knows he feels fit then I don't think he'll be frustrated in the slightest by it."

Powerful Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey and combative Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier will make their Test debuts for Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.

Connacht lock Ultan Dillane could make his international bow off the bench too, with Ireland again injecting youth and power into the ranks after further injury blows.

Tighthead prop Mike Ross is ready to start, while Cian Healy takes a seat on the bench with Ireland hoping the duo can shore up a previously creaking scrum.

All the buzz about the new caps dissipated in the wake of Jones' comments on Sexton, however, leaving Ireland fending off yet more questions about their talismanic playmaker.

Sexton was stood down for 12 weeks at the tail-end of 2014 after suffering four concussions inside 12 months, and has been subject to intense scrutiny over his well-being ever since.

The 30-year-old has been left battered and bruised by a string of clashes against France, the latest of which included a late hit that earned Yoann Maestri a citing commissioner's warning having been missed during the contest.

Sexton appeared dazed on exiting the late stages of that Stade de France defeat, that has left Ireland winless from their first two Six Nations matches.

Ulster wing Trimble believes Sexton is well placed to produce a classic performance at Twickenham this weekend, however, and in the process shut down much of the disquiet that continues to dog his every move.

"He can definitely go out there and end a lot of that chat," Trimble said.

"He certainly got a hard time in the French game, with guys coming at him left, right and centre.

"Johnny's confrontational and aggressive, and that's just with us never mind the opposition.

"But Johnny can handle it. Johnny can handle himself more than most people out there, to be honest.

"So I don't think he'll be bothered at all by any of the talk."

Jones had already irked Ireland by claiming Schmidt's side kick away 60 per cent of their possession - a statistic on which the Irish were quick to pour scorn.

Trimble claimed Ireland will not be altering their approach just because of outside scrutiny.

"We've won two championships in a row and that's because of the processes that are in place," Trimble said.

"I don't think we're going to get bogged down in any of the stats that are unverified - I think that's the polite way of terming it."

Ireland never shy away from the traditions of terming taking on England as a grudge encounter, and prop Mike Ross suggested Jones' men would do well not to intensify the rancour any further.

"There's always been an edge to our encounters," Ross said.

"It doesn't really bother us too much what's said but I think England don't really want to give us any more motivation.

"Eddie Jones is just having a bit of fun about the kicking, I think.

"We won't take it too seriously; we won't be pinning that on the dressing room door."

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