Sunday 21 January 2018

Battered, bloodied, brilliant and brave

Sexton the hero as Irish grind out another win

Jonathan Sexton, scorer of five penalties in Ireland’s win over France, is treated for a nasty blood injury after a clash of heads with France’s Mathieu Bastareaud.
Jonathan Sexton, scorer of five penalties in Ireland’s win over France, is treated for a nasty blood injury after a clash of heads with France’s Mathieu Bastareaud.
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Ireland's defence of their Six Nations Championship took another positive step at the Aviva Stadium yesterday when they held out against France for back-to-back wins over Philippe Saint-André's side for the first time since the turn of the century.

Johnny Sexton, playing his first game for over three months, was man of the match with a five-from-five kicking performance in the 18-11 win. He had to go off, after a clash of heads with Mathieu Bastareaud, with an eye wound that needed stitching. And the wound was opened again before the end of the match after another clash with Bastareaud.

Ireland didn't score a try - Ian Madigan's also kicked a penalty while on as a blood sub for Sexton - but were good value for the win over opposition they will face again in the World Cup in the autumn.

"We weren't really all the things we want to be - we want to be disciplined, we want to be accurate, and we weren't as good at those things as we'd like to be," captain Paul O'Connell said afterwards.

"We turned over the ball unnecessarily, but they are a good side, and a big side, with a lot of very skilful players. So for us to get a win is massive. The defensive effort in the second half was great. You'd rather defend with the ball, and rather have the ball for longer, putting them under pressure and defending that way, but we turned over the ball a lot and you can't do that with them."

Despite the turnovers Ireland came out the right side on the penalty count, albeit conceding nine which is a few more than they would want, and were far more accurate than France who only got to grips with the game in the second half by which stage they were 12-6 down.

"Credit to our outhalves, Johnny and Ian (Madigan)," O'Connell said. "They were six out of six with their kicks and it's a great comfort for us to have outhalves who can do that.

"When we put ourselves under pressure in the second half it could have been a different story if we didn't have them."

The result sees England take over at the top of the table on points' difference (plus five) from Ireland, thanks to their comprehensive 47-17 win over Italy in Twickenham earlier in the day. Ireland play England at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, March 1.

"I think that game against England is going to be another level," O'Connell said. "I think it's going to be a challenge that not many of us have faced before."

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said: "I think we've got the killer instinct but we need to be a fraction more accurate.

"We got pretty close at Twckenham last year but again I thought their performance against Wales was ahead of anything we've put together in the last few games, so we're going to have to be better again," he added.

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