Sunday 18 February 2018

'We have to trust the guys in the middle' - Easterby confident officials will police physical French

30 January 2018; Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby during an Ireland rugby squad press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
30 January 2018; Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby during an Ireland rugby squad press conference at Carton House in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Nick Purewal

Ireland trust referee Nigel Owens to protect their top stars against any late hits from France in Paris on Saturday, according to forwards coach Simon Easterby.

Linchpin fly-half Johnny Sexton was targeted with a string of late tackles at the Stade de France two years ago when Ireland slipped up 10-9 in the 2016 Six Nations.

Ireland will open their NatWest 6 Nations campaign in Paris this weekend, with Easterby adamant the officials will keep both sets of players in line.

Asked if Ireland had any fears of a repeat of the overtly-physical treatment from two years ago, Easterby said: "No, we have to trust the guys in the middle and the fourth official, making sure we get the right adjudication.

"The game every year is becoming critical of those players who go outside the law; it's not now possible to do certain things that you used to get away with when I was playing and that is for the betterment of the game.

"I am sure Nigel Owens and his team will have full control of that.

"We don't have any concerns about what is going to happen out there and we trust the guys in the middle will be able to control things and see everything.

"We just want consistency. We have been aware through meetings and communication with the referees about certain things that they are going to be focusing on a little bit more.

"As long as we have consistency and it is the same for both sides that's all we can ask. That allows us to prepare the players and guide them in the working week so that on the weekend they see those things pan out."

Ireland boast a clean bill of health ahead of their opening Six Nations clash, with head coach Joe Schmidt's side widely tipped to contest the title along with reigning champions England.

New France coach Jacques Brunel has mixed up his Les Bleus squad, with the likes of uncapped teenage fly-half Matthieu Jalibert potentially in line for a Test bow this weekend.

Easterby admitted the new-look France squad have been tricky to analyse in depth, but insisted Ireland will be ready for the challenge, whatever the chosen side.

"There are a couple of players who have come in with one or two caps or some who haven't been capped before; I think there are six new caps in there," said Easterby.

"It does give them an advantage in that we haven't seen them play together before for France but we have done a lot of homework and we know individually what they can do.

"Bordeaux Begles were playing a certain way under Jacques Brunel so we try and take bits from various things. Other than that we are going to focus on what we can really well, what we can control.

"If we do that then we are getting the balance right, knowing that we haven't seen them play together as a team under the new management."

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